Sunday, December 30, 2012

Deconstructing Chicken

A nice short film about "fabricating" a chicken--basically, deconstructing a chicken into its component parts. Derek Allen does a nice job of explaining how to cut up whole chicken. My only complaint is that he doesn't discuss making stock from the leftover bits.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Frankenfish Rises

Yeah, I know it's just a genetically modified salmon, but Frankenfish is the name it was given and it sure has stuck. And why not? This is a "salmon [that] has been modified by the addition of a growth hormone regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter gene from an ocean pout to the Atlantic's 40,000 genes. These genes enable it to grow year-round instead of only during Spring and Summer. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows, without affecting its ultimate size or other qualities." (Wikipedia)

illustration credit: The Independent
The AquAdvantage salmon (to address it by its proper name) is intended to be raised in on-land fish farms from supplied eggs and is expected to grow at least twice as fast as a normal Atlantic salmon. Of course, that does mean it needs to eat an enormous amount.

We Are What We Lost

Food holds so many important places in our culture and lives. This short film by Srdjan Mitrovic leads you in one direction and you end up at quite another. But the beautiful simplicity of the meal and the way it is prepared stay with me.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Place at the Table (a grassroots film)

A short film about re-thinking food banks. Too often, food banks are used as a dump for poor quality food that, while it contains calories, doesn't properly feed a person. A Place at the Table is the story of one church's desire to re-think their approach to food security for their community.  Patnering with local farmers, the introduction of community gardens, from top to bottom the way they thought about what they were doing changed.
The local farmer talking about the difficulty of access to land struck a real chord with me, as I live near some of the priciest farm land in the world--some $16-$20K/acre. A forty-five acre (18 hectare) pice of land can easily run $750,000C. And that's in a province with strict rules about keeping agricultural land agricultural.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Some Good News

Safeway has exceeded its cage-free egg goal, reports Triple Pundit. It's not perfect--the goal was to increase from 6 to 12 percent of its eggs coming from cage-free, Humane Farm Animal Care-certified farms, and they've managed to achieve 15 percent. But it's still a big and positive step forward to having humanly-sourced eggs available at one of North America's biggest food retailers.
Free-ranging rooster.   credit:wikipedia
This is a big company--2011 sales of $43.6B--that's making a change driven by consumer demand. And that's a powerful thing. But if it hurt their sales, they would spin on a dime and go back to the old ways in a New York second. So consumer support will be required over the long term.
The standards the farm meets are pretty good, too:
The Certified Humane label is described by HFAC as a “certification and labeling program that is the only animal welfare label requiring the humane treatment of farm animals from birth through slaughter.” In order to qualify for the Certified Humane label, an egg farm has to meet certain standards:
  • Cages are not allowed, and housing facilities must include areas for hens to nest, dust bath, scratch and perch
  • The animals must have enough space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress
  • The animals must have access to ample fresh water and a healthy diet of quality feed with no animal by-products
Also important is Safeway's commitment to  a gestation crate free pork supply chain, as well. So kudos to a major retailer and it's response to consumer demand to do the right thing.

Sunshine and Seawater

If you're trying to grow vegetables--perfect vegetables--It's going to cost. But it can be done differently, as the Guardian reports:
Which makes it all the more remarkable that a group of young brains from Europe, Asia and north America, led by a 33-year-old German former Goldman Sachs banker but inspired by a London theatre lighting engineer of 62, have bought a sizeable lump of this unpromising outback territory and built on it an experimental greenhouse which holds the seemingly realistic promise of solving the world's food problems.
Indeed, the work that Sundrop Farms, as they call themselves, are doing in South Australia, and just starting up in Qatar, is beyond the experimental stage. They appear to have pulled off the ultimate something-from-nothing agricultural feat – using the sun to desalinate seawater for irrigation and to heat and cool greenhouses as required, and thence cheaply grow high-quality, pesticide-free vegetables year-round in commercial quantities.
So far, the company has grown tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers by the tonne, but the same, proven technology is now almost ready to be extended to magic out, as if from thin air, unlimited quantities of many more crops – and even protein foods such as fish and chicken – but still using no fresh water and close to zero fossil fuels. Salty seawater, it hardly needs explaining, is free in every way and abundant – rather too abundant these days, as our ice caps melt away.
This is a fascinating story about a British visionary, and the business-focussed people who turned his ideas into food. 

Thinking About Production

Chickpea plant   credit: Wikipedia

Just as Britain has moved from the land of "meat and two veg" to a country full of curries and celebrity chefs (Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, etc.), so to has DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, changed its way of thinking about what the country should look at producing.
DEFRA is actually one of the more forward-thinking government departments around, and looking at the current vasriety of food consumption in the UK, they've figured out that it might be time for a change. As the Guardian reports:
Growing ingredients for Indian curries such as chickpeas for pakoras as well as a range of exotic herbs and spices would open up new markets for British farmers and reduce dependence on imports, according to government report into how the agricultural sector can operate more sustainably in future. Growing more curry ingredients domestically could also potentially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from food imports.
By examining the problems facing the UK's food production and countryside through key sectors and foods including curries, breads and dairy products, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is hoping to improve food systems at a time when they are coming under increasing threat. The Green Food Project report says that major changes must be made to agriculture, food processing and retailing, if price rises are to be kept in check and the natural environment preserved.
Lord knows, DEFRA may not be perfect (but really, who or what actually is?) but at least they, and by extension the British people, are grappling with questions that the majority of Canadians still haven't heard of.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Food Security Failing in Britain

The World Health Organization uses this definition of food security:
The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. Commonly, the concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences.
Food security is built on three pillars:
  • Food availability: sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis.
  • Food access: having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.
  • Food use: appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation.
 Seems pretty simple, doesn't it? Access to a consistent supply of food that meets your nutritional needs and that you know how to use. The ruling classes long ago learned that if you expect a functioning society, your people need food, water, and shelter. So why is this so hard to accomplish?
In Canada, we have tens of thousands of citizens unable to access clean, safe water, never mind a secure source of food. And in Britain, the seventh-wealthiest country in the world, there are now 13 MILLION people now living below the poverty line and new food banks are opening every day.  And in the US about a third of the population qualifies for what used to be called "food stamps."
Suzanne Moore, writing in the Guardian, has called 2012 not the year of the Olympics, but the year of the food bank.
In fact, this has been the year of the soup kitchen. The switch from "soup kitchen", which smacks of Victorian desperation, to the more neutral "food bank" is a semantic coup d'état. An economic crisis initiated by the immorality of the banks ends up with nice "banks" that offer food for free.
I regularly volunteer at a soup kitchen, where we struggle to provide a balanced, home-style meal to those who need it five days a week. We are part of the Food Bank Canada network. A country so rich and with such a small population living so far above the global norm has 800 food banks and 3000 food programs. And no safe water for a significant part of its population.
Amartya Sen, the Nobel-winning, Bengali economist wrote a book called Poverty and Famines: an Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation in the early 80s, which looked at the food system and the way it delivers to the poorest--particularly under emergency conditions. Far too frequently in famines, there is food available, just not available to those in need. This was true during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, and has been true since. Ethiopia during LiveAid was exporting food to Europe in the same way the Irish did a century and a half earlier.
The stories coming out of England in Suzanne Moore's essay sound so familiar:
a man who joined the army and found that while on basic training his wife and children, who had not yet been provided with accommodation, could not cope with increasing bills and his decreased income. His wife broke down at her children's nursery and was taken to a food bank. Is he a soldier or a shirker?
Wages too low to access food. Benefits packages too low to afford both housing and food. These are structural problems implicit in our food system. As Sen points out, it's too often about poverty, not famine. And poverty is something we can deal with, have dealt with. The 1970s saw the lowest rates of systemic poverty we've ever seen in the developed world--until it was decided that the poor have it too easy. That if being poor isn't so bad, workers won't fear it enough. That the whole "income redistribution for greater income equality" thing had gone too damned far, and that workers were just getting too damned uppity. 
And this isn't just me being some socialist mouthpiece. The historical record from the Mulroney/Thatcher/Reagan years bears this out. Greater income inequality, greater poverty and homelessness, and an inadequate and shredded safety net were choices, choices made by those with power to change the way the rest of us live. Greater globalization, the anti-union movement, greater inequality, these were decisions, choices.
And now, when, as Moore says "An economic crisis initiated by the immorality of the banks ends up with nice "banks" that offer food for free," we see people forced into desperation. Because famines rarely cause revolutions. And if you can keep poor people just on the edge of desperation, you can keep them too busy trying to survive to revolt.
But the problem is, the system isn't stable. It's predicated on having enough surplus food to make sure the developed world's poor can eat. But that may no longer be the case; the US drought of 2012 is continuing into the winter, with the Mississippi river at its lowest levels possibly ever (which is interfering with the ability to move barge traffic on the river). The World Food Price Index is expected to top out at 240 this spring--a level that, as NECSI points out, spreads enough hardship around that social instability results (as in the Arab Spring--revolutions at least partly caused by the price of bread).
Here in Canada,as the rest of the world, the global system is unstable. The bad news is that we have people in power who don't actually get this, and don't understand any of what needs to be done. Their prescription is simply for more of the same only cranked up to 11.
Food shortages and climbing prices. A bankrupt (morally, financially and theoretically) economic system held in place through political repression backed up by increasingly thuggish "police forces." A rapidly warming planet (really really rapidly warming). Collapsing ecosystems. A middle class in utter denial and desperate to maintain their privilege. A plutocracy willing to do anything to maintain theirs. This all makes it difficult to hold out any hope for te various systems we rely on.
The only thing that gives me flashes of hope is people. People engaging an issue, any issue, and struggling to reform a piece of the world. Like the anti-pipeline  crowd at the Dogwood Initiative; despite the fact that Canada is a hostage (Or, as Andrew Nikiforuk calls us, slaves) to the revenue from oil (the Feds rely on oil for about 25% of their budget, and that's set to rise to 33%), they are saying no to Enbridge and the Northern Gateway.
Te rise of the urban farming movement, to bring the food supply home, is encouraging. Cuba has shown us just how much can be done, and the Campasino a Campasino movement is spreading the word around the world.
All this is to the good, but until we're all engaging with the need for democracy and local decision making, until we're all forming linkages both within and between communities, hope is in short supply.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Making Presents

With the holiday season upon us (I just saw a city bus drive by with the interior decked out with silver and green garland) I thought it time to make some presents for the season.
We acquired a half-dozen bail-top or Kilner jars, and I thought they might prove nice for a couple of presents. I've seen the rubber rings fail badly when in contact with a 5% acetic acid (you know, vinegar), so flavoured vinegar was off the table. Instead, I dropped by For Good Measure, our neighbourhood bulk/health food store and bought some vanilla beans. Then I dropped by a neighbours place...

Yeah, that's a rosemary bush. Over 1.3 metres high and a good metre across. There's two of them, and we talked to the homeowner this summer and it turns out they never use rosemary in cooking. I was knocked out--such beautiful bushes and not using them for anything other than garden decor. I shake my head in wonderment....
The gentleman we spoke with about the rosemary invited us to take some when we needed it, so I went back over and clipped a couple of ends and brought them home.
It's been a mild winter so far--so much so that I had to take this picture:
Yes, the rosemary was in bloom at the beginning of December. In Canada.
I washed the rosemary sprigs and then measured the vanilla beans against the jars. I cut the beans almost in half, and split one half and scraped the seeds out and put them in one of the jars. Then I put the other half of the bean in and poured warm honey over the vanilla. The split and seeded half went into a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.
I added a couple of sprigs of rosemary to the other bottles and poured warm honey over them as well.

If you look at the full size version of the picture, you can see the tiny vanilla seeds in the honey.
So vanilla honey (should be good in cookies or tea) and rosemary honey (which I use as a glaze), and I have a couple of presents made.

Monday, December 17, 2012

When Is Lobster Not Lobster?

When Red Lobster is selling langostinos as lobster. Not langostines, the Norwegian lobster and possibly the most commercially important crustacean in Europe, but langostino, a non-lobster crustacean.
Let's compare, shall we? Here's a picture of a lobster:
Lobster Homarus americanus credit: Wikipedia
Big ugly sea bug--but tasty. In 2005, the FDA in the US ruled that it was okay to sell this guy, the langostino, as a lobster:
A squat lobster or langostino Munidopsis serricornis photo credit: Wikipedia
That's not really the same, other than being a tasty sea bug. And it's not the langostine or scampi:
Langostine Nephrops norvegicus credit: Wikipedia
which is a smaller version of the true lobster.
Now, I'm not saying it's bad to eat the squat lobster (anyone else got the B-52s running through their head?). But the FDA has ruled that it's okay to sell it as lobster, under the name lobster, at the same price as lobster, even when it isn't lobster.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Change, It Comes...

Slowly, but it comes.
From the village farm blog
Village farm has some great ideas in building a new style farm. Based on Vancouver Island, they seem clear that the current food production regime is just absurd. This is the Mediterranean Basin of Canada and should be a showcase for local food production.
The land will be used for Co-op owned enterprises like Fruit Orchards and Forestry, and also individual enterprises run by Participating Supporters who don’t live on The Village Farm but have bought shares to use the land for activities like bee keeping, farming produce and seed cultivation.
We plan on having a community building where there will be a Farm Stand Market, a Cafe, a commercial kitchen and a gathering space where we will hold classes, workshops and apprenticeships.
Some of our members have expressed interest in creating a healing centre using medicinal herbs grown on the farm. Others have a desire to produce artisanal food products like charcuterie and hold farm table dinners for the community. As you can imagine, the more we share ideas, the more excited we get.
Read the post, keep up to date on the blog.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Breadlines, Sweet Charity and Beyond

Breadlines, Sweet Charity and Beyond: a conversation with Jan Poppendieck and Nick Saul is a webinar I attended this morning, sponsored by Community Food Centres Canada.  Essentially a way of bringing an audience to a talk, rather than bringing a speaker to an audience, and as such it worked pretty well. Sadly, there was no Q&A session at the end, but the interview with Janet Poppendieck was very interesting.
Janet Poppendieck is the author of three food security related books: Breadlines Knee Deep In Wheat: Food assistance in the Great Depression, Sweet Charity?: Emergency food and the end of entitlement, and Free For All: Fixing school food in America. Amazingly, I haven't read any of them yet (in my defense, I've got at least three books on the go at the moment, and a stack of unread volumes on my desk, to say nothing of the ones on hold at the library).
The discussion ranged from a brief overview of the history of the food re-distribution movement, to changes in the way food banks (Canada) and community pantries (US) have changed. For example, how food banks were seen in the early '80s and being an emergency response to a short-term situation to becoming a structural part of food delivery.  A great example of this is the Boston Food Bank's 117,000 sq. ft. building. Or, as Mark Bittman reports in the New York Times:
Food banks may cover an entire state or part of one: the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, for example, serves 53 counties and provides enough food to feed 48,000 square miles and feeds 90,000 people a week — in a state with fewer than four million people.
As I've pointed out far too often, this was the result of a series of political decisions we made under Mulroney (Canada), Reagan (US) and Thatcher (UK). And once made, there has been no effort expended to reverse them; private charity has had to make up for imposed structural inequality. And with 1 in 8 Americans using SNAP (what used to be called food stamps), the problems is embedded in the current system. Jan Poppendieck pointed this out when she said words to the effect of " People who care about the poor have to focus on what's happening at the top. This is not just about growing poverty, but about growing inequality." Again from Mark Bittman's article Hunger In Plain Sight:
Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs brought the poverty level down to 11 percent from 20 percent in less than 10 years. Ronald Reagan began the process of dismantling that minimal safety net, and as a result the current poverty level is close to 16 percent, and food stamps are not fully doing their job. “There was a time in this country,” says Maryland Food Bank president and C.E.O. Deborah Flateman, “when food stamps had practically eliminated hunger; then the big cuts happened, and we’ve been trying to recover ever since.”
The situation is quite similar in Canada. As in the US, snack foods have become cheaper while fresh foods have become more expensive--and prices are expected to rise considerably as we move into 2013. 
All in all, I have to say that this has been a positive experience--I like the whole webinar idea. The Stop Commmunity Food Centre's Learning Network is planning to post the audio portion of he webinar soon (I'll likn to it then), and, I think, did a good job setting this up. I suspect that the other 160 or so participants would agree with me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More About Cheese

14th c. Cheesemaking.   Credit: Wikipedia
Cheese is in the news today, as Richard Evershed, who co-authored a study of ancient cheesemaking at the University of Bristol has published a paper pushing back the date of the earliest cheesemaking to about 7000 years ago. There is some suspicion that it was going on another thousand yars before that, but in this latest paper, pottery shards with fine holes them have been analyzed and shown to have milk residue on them.
This is important because most humans were lactose intolerant at that time, losing the ability to digest milk at an early age. But the conversion process of milk into cheesebreaks down lactose, making in tolerable for consumption by humans. It wasn't until dairy farming moved out of what is modern day Turkey and into Europe that it met with a group of mutant humans who retained the ability to digest lactose into adulthood. Once daiying met lactose-digesting humans, milk consumption--particularly raw milk consumption--really took off. Access to a broader range of high-quality food helped spread the genes for lactose tolerance.
Wheels of Gouda   Credit: Wikipedia
Listen to CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks on Dec. 15 for an interview with Richard Evershed, who co-authored the study of ancient cheesemaking at the University of Bristol.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Slow Moving Cranberry Crisis

The Cranberry Harvest on the Island of Nantucket, Eastman Johnson, 1880.
Courtesy Wikipedia

Delawareonline is reporting that cranberry growers in the state are becoming nervous about their future prospects becuase they are seeing signs of climate change.
Despite enjoying a near-record, 768 million-pound nationwide harvest in 2012, growers are voicing concern that global warming will sour the industry’s long-term outlook, increasing losses to weather-related blights and fruit rots and tempting more producers to grow the tangy berry offshore.
 Of course, "offshore" is having the same climate-related problems. But Massachusetts is experiencing problems with earlier spring weather and cranberry growth leaving the plants more vulnerable to frost. And Mass. is pretty focused on cranberries, having maintained a research centre for cranberries at the University of Massachusetts since 1910.
“The growers are at the point where there’s concern that the climate is changing,” said Brian Wick, director of regulatory services for the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association. “We are seeing these sort of extremes in weather.”
“They’ve noticed over the past several years that we’re dealing with many more extremes,” Wick said.
This disruption in growing patterns caused by weather extremes is not, of course, confined to Massachusetts, but is being experienced everywhere. From the American drought to an extended hurricane season, to changes in the monsoon season and populations relying on disappearing rivers, there's a lot happening out there.
So far, 2012 has delivered plenty of weather extremes in Delaware, including the hottest spring on record, the third-hottest summer and, through October, the hottest year-to-date by a wide a margin. Along the way, there have been periods of severe drought and intense rain, including Hurricane Sandy’s deluge.
Delaware Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee has remained optimistic.
“Climate change is something that people are talking about, but we think a lot of it can be dealt with genetically,” through development of hardier and more tolerant crops, Kee said. “Climate is changing, but it’s a slow process.”
But the problem is, is that it is not such a slow process anymore.  Those weather extremes in Delaware are already happening. That means that the changes are upon us. The Arctic has lost its summer sea ice cover at least 20 yars before the most pessimistic forecast had it vanishing. Things are speeding up and the future looks bleak. A safe, secure, stable food system is essential for maintaining a safe stable society. Just ask the governments that faced the Arab Spring uprisings. It is also pretty necessary for maintaining life on Earth.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The New Food Safety Bill

This is the same bill that removes wieghts and measures from the CFIAs list of responsibilities. With this government, you can be pretty sure that it doesn't have our best interests at heart.
From the CBC:
In the aftermath of the massive E. coli scare at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., the House of Commons has passed legislation to modernize, consolidate and add consistency to Canada's food inspection system.
While the legislation is not a direct response to September's XL Foods shutdown, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Bill S-11 will provide a "more consistent" approach to food inspection, allowing a "uniform approach" across all food commodities.
Bill S-11 originated in the Senate in June. It passed a third reading unanimously Tuesday evening and only royal assent remains before the bill becomes law.
Speaking before the final vote on Tuesday, Ritz highlighted several improvements contained in the Safe Food for Canadians Act:
  • Better traceability in the food system, making it easier to recall products if safety issues arise somewhere in the food chain.
  • New record-keeping requirements for regulated facilities and more powers for inspectors to compel the production of documents in useable formats.
  • Tougher penalties for those who violate established safety standards, increasing maximum fines from $250,000 to up to $5 million, or even higher at the court’s discretion.
  • New penalties for "recklessly endangering the lives of Canadians" through tampering, deceptive practices or hoaxes.
  • Registration for all importers, to add a greater degree of certainty to the food safety system.
  • More authority for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to certify exporters, if required by other countries to facilitate trade.

Monday, November 19, 2012

HARDtalk with Vanada Shiva

Vananda Shiva from Wikipedia

HARDtalk is a BBC News programme the does extended interviews. At 4:30 am on 19 Nov. 2012, the extended interview is/was with Vananda Shiva, the original treehugger (no, really. In the '70s, she and a group of women hugged trees to keep them from being cut down). She:
(...) is a philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist.[1] Shiva, currently based in Delhi, has authored more than 20 books.[2] She was trained as a physicist and received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, in 1978 with the doctoral dissertation "Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory."[3][4]
She is one of the leaders and board members of the International Forum on Globalization, (along with Jerry Mander, Edward Goldsmith, Ralph Nader, Jeremy Rifkin, et al.), and a figure of the global solidarity movement known as the alter-globalization movement. She has argued for the wisdom of many traditional practices, as is evident from her interview in the book Vedic Ecology (by Ranchor Prime) that draws upon India's Vedic heritage. She is a member of the scientific committee of the Fundacion IDEAS, Spain's Socialist Party's think tank. She is also a member of the International Organization for a Participatory Society.[5]
She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1993. [via wikipedia]
There's a great deal of info on Vanada Shiva available (like this interview).  But the HARDtalk interview is really quite good. When the interviewer says that cotton yields have increased with the introduction of BT cotton from Monsanto, Vanada calls her out, saying, in essence  "Bull. The yields have increased not because its bt cotton, but because its now being monocropped instead of intercropped. There's simply more cotton being grown." The interview isn't available for download yet--as the programme hasn't yet been aired in most of the world. But the link above will make it available soon. And I'll post it once it becomes available.
UPDATE: BBC has restricted viewing of HARDtalk to the UK. There is a clip from the interview here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Feeding The World Cheaply

How about using the food we already grow? Reports out of Canada, the EU, and the US indicate that close to half of the food planted never makes it to the fork.
From Science Daily:
The world's population is an estimated seven billion people. An additional one billion can be fed from our current resources, if the food losses could be halved. This can be achieved if the lowest loss percentage achieved in any region could be reached globally.
"There isn't enough clean water everywhere on Earth. Significantly more agricultural land cannot be cleared as well as certain raw material minerals for fertilizers are running low. At the same time, a quarter of the amount of calories in produced food is lost or wasted at different stages of food production chain, which results in unnecessary resources loss," says Matti Kummu, post-doctoral researcher at Aalto University.
The new study is the first to evaluate the impact of food losses and its relationship to resources on a global scale. Annually 27 m3 of clean water, 0.031 hectares of agricultural land and 4.3 kilos of fertilizers per every inhabitant in the world is wasted in food losses.
"Agriculture uses over 90 percent of the fresh water consumed by humans and most of the raw materials used in fertilizers. More efficient food production and the reduction of food losses are very important matters for the environment as well as future food security," Kummu adds.

New Potatoes

Not the little ones, but a new cultivar.  Science Daily is reporting the conventional breeding of a new potato called the Peter Wilcox.
Peter Wilcox potatoes
Credit: University of Florida
Scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) bred yellow potatoes with carotenoid levels that are two to three times higher than those of the popular Yukon Gold yellow-fleshed potato variety.
ARS plant geneticist Kathy Haynes and nutritionist Beverly Clevidence did the research at the agency's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md. Haynes works in the Genetic Improvement for Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory (GIFVL) at the Beltsville center, and Clevidence works in the center's Food Components and Health Laboratory.
Haynes found wild potatoes with intense yellow flesh that have about 23 times more carotenoids than white-flesh potatoes. By crossing these wild potatoes with cultivated types, Haynes and her colleagues developed the high-carotenoid potatoes.
In 2007, Haynes and her colleagues introduced a new potato named Peter Wilcox that they developed. The potato, which has purple skin and yellow flesh, has become popular in niche roadside markets. The overall carotenoid levels in this potato are more than 15 percent higher than those in Yukon Gold, according to Haynes.

English Honey Production

Image from Wikipedia

With all the trouble bees are having with colony collapse disorder, varroa mites, and the like,now we need to add climate change to the mix.
Varroa mite on honeybee. From Wikipedia
The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA)  is reporting [pdf] that:
Britain’s beekeepers have endured a desperately difficult summer with average honey yields down to just eight pounds per hive, compared to a yearly average of 30 pounds, according to the results of the British
Beekeepers Association’s latest annual Honey Survey announced today, 30 October.
Honey bees produce honey as a food store. In a normal year this store should be sufficient to see them through the winter months. The nation’s honey bees now face an even more trying winter than usual with vastly depleted stores and even greater reliance than usual on the feeding skills of beekeepers to prevent mass starvation occurring through the dark winter months when honey bees would normally feed on honey produced over the previous summer.

Nearly nine in ten (88 per cent) of the 2,700 beekeepers who took part in the survey cited rain and cold weather as the main cause of depleted honey supplies this year, conditions which caused the BBKA to issue an unprecedented mid-summer warning to beekeepers to check the stores in their honey bee colonies and to feed them if they were inadequate to avoid starvation
The British over-winter drought broke this late spring with massive storms, leading into a wet and miserable summer. The summer was so bad that bees were unable to collect food enough to feed themselves. Makes me wonder how the British Black Bees that were found this year are doing.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Food: An Atlas

Food map from Food: an atlas
Tilde Herrera, over at Grist, writes about a fascinating new project: Food: An Altas
“It’s a book about the geography of food,” says Darin Jensen, a University of California at Berkeley professor and cartographer who is spearheading the project. Jensen issued a call for maps in June and the submissions began pouring in. Food: An Atlas is crowdsourced from roughly 100 volunteers spread across parts of the globe, including a loose band of what Jensen calls “guerrilla cartographers.” That means they created maps and contributed to the project voluntarily, not because they are under assignment.
Some maps, such as one of a tomato tour of Europe, raise interesting questions about global trade. Spain, for example, exports some of its best tomatoes out of the country at a premium, according to author Lucia Argüelles of Barcelona, but it also imports tomatoes for consumption from other nations, such as Morocco and France, or from the Netherlands during the winter. These inefficiencies exacerbate environmental problems, such as climate change and air pollution.
A terrific project, and one I look forward to getting my hands on.

The Truth Will Out

A journal article popped up rather unexpectedly on PLOSOne the other day. Titled
Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Healththe article details how researchers have  compared the standard industrial model agroculture, with lots of herbicides/pesticides and a two-crop rotation, with a three crop and four crop rotation.using much lower levels of nitrogen and herbicide inputs. To quote the authors; "We hypothesized that cropping system diversification would promote ecosystem services that would supplement, and eventually displace, synthetic external inputs used to maintain crop productivity."
The news is good. "Grain yields, mass of harvested products, and profit in the more diverse systems were similar to, or greater than [emphasis mine], those in the conventional system, despite reductions of agrichemical inputs." The abstract pretty much covers it all:
Balancing productivity, profitability, and environmental health is a key challenge for agricultural sustainability. Most crop production systems in the United States are characterized by low species and management diversity, high use of fossil energy and agrichemicals, and large negative impacts on the environment. We hypothesized that cropping system diversification would promote ecosystem services that would supplement, and eventually displace, synthetic external inputs used to maintain crop productivity. To test this, we conducted a field study from 2003–2011 in Iowa that included three contrasting systems varying in length of crop sequence and inputs. We compared a conventionally managed 2-yr rotation (maize-soybean) that received fertilizers and herbicides at rates comparable to those used on nearby farms with two more diverse cropping systems: a 3-yr rotation (maize-soybean-small grain + red clover) and a 4-yr rotation (maize-soybean-small grain + alfalfa-alfalfa) managed with lower synthetic N fertilizer and herbicide inputs and periodic applications of cattle manure. Grain yields, mass of harvested products, and profit in the more diverse systems were similar to, or greater than, those in the conventional system, despite reductions of agrichemical inputs. Weeds were suppressed effectively in all systems, but freshwater toxicity of the more diverse systems was two orders of magnitude lower than in the conventional system. Results of our study indicate that more diverse cropping systems can use small amounts of synthetic agrichemical inputs as powerful tools with which to tune, rather than drive, agroecosystem performance, while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems.

Some Good News

Potato varieties courtesy

After the failure to get food labelling laws changed in California, agribusiness giants like Monsanto and Bayer have been facing some significant push-back in other parts of the world.
, reporting at Natural Society, writes about Poland:
Following the anti-Monsanto activism launched by nations like France and Hungary, Poland has announced that it will launch a complete ban on growing  Monsanto’s  genetically modified strain MON810. The announcement, made by Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki, sets yet another international standard against Monsanto’s genetically modified creations. In addition to being linked to a plethora health ailments, Sawicki says that the pollen originating from this GM strain may actually be devastating the already dwindling bee population.
Similar opposition to Monsanto occurred on March 9th, when 7 European countries blocked a proposal by the Danish EU presidency which would permit the cultivation of genetically modified plants on the entire continent. It was France, who in February, lead the charge against GMOs by asking the European Commission to suspend authorization to Monsanto’s genetically modified corn. What’s more, the country settled a landmark case in favor of the people over Monsanto, finding the biotech giant guilty of chemical poisoning. is reporting a similar action by the Peruvian government:
In a massive blow to multinational agribiz corporations such as  Monsanto, Bayer, and Dow, Peru has officially passed a law banning genetically modified ingredients anywhere within the country for a full decade before coming up for another review.  Peru’s Plenary Session of the Congress made the decision 3 years after the decree was written despite previous governmental pushes for GM legalization due largely to the pressure from farmers that together form the Parque de la Papa in Cusco, a farming community of 6,000 people that represent six communities. They worry the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will compromise the native species of Peru, such as the giant white corn, purple corn and, of course, the famous species of Peruvian potatoes. Anibal Huerta, President of Peru’s Agrarian Commission, said the ban was needed to prevent the ”danger that can arise from the use of biotechnology.” (

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Exactly Are They Trying To Say?

Hidden away in the omnibus bill called a budget, the federal Conservatives have decided not to chase down food package infractions anymore. From the CBC:
Canada's Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is defending his government's decision to deregulate food packaging.
The proposal is part of the omnibus budget bill.
Ritz said food safety will be improved because less time will be spent chasing minor packing infractions.
Food packaging size is currently monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Ritz said officials "spend more time than you'd think" enforcing the sizes.
"We’ll spend days chasing down a honey container that is a half an ounce out. And the quality of the product is never suspect inside the container," Ritz said. "We need to focus our resources on food safety."
Really, Gerry? So now it will be okay for companies to simply mislabel the volume on a label to make you think you're getting 400 grams at $0.99/100g, but you're really only getting 350 grams? And that is a "a non-tariff trade barrier"?
I'll say it again; there is a strong stench of criminality, corruption, and just plain incompetence around this government.

More Vertical Urban Farming

Courtesy of MNDSingapore.
This intriguing item is a giant Ferris wheel  for plants. As reported at the9billion,and at NPR, this is a vertical farming unit currently commercially producing bok choy and Chinese cabbage in Singapore.
Horizontal space is at a premium, so the produce is grown inside 120 slender 30-foot towers, and is already finding their way into Singapore's grocery stores.

Monday, October 15, 2012

BAD12, The Power of We

I was having lunch Friday at the CCCBE(The Centre for Co-operative and Community-Based Economy) at the University of Victoria. This is a highlight of my week, giving me an intense hour of discussion on various topics with some very smart people. Friday, four of us ran a bit long, unable to stop talking about not the changes that have to be made, but about how to spark the action around the changes that have to be made to make human life on Earth sustainable over the long term.
And its not like we weren't all active in some way. One was working on the CRD (the Capital RegionalDistrict) sustainability plan, another was active in sustainable development in Sooke—particularly around the former Western Forest Product lands that have been purchased by a developer keen to turn the place into a massive tourist development right on top of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail (a piece of wildness dear to my heart). Mention was made of the public hearings around the Trail development and how a number of old hippies and draft dodgers who had gone back into the hills around Sooke and homesteaded, had come out of the woodwork to raise their concerns about the development. But they also talked about how difficult it had been to farm in the area, how they had realised that they really couldn't do it alone.
When we moved back to the farm when the kids were tykes, we had much the same feeling—we'll be a self-sustaining unit and do it all ourselves. And thank heavens we moved to our family farm and had help from outside ourselves. While we knew a great deal of what we wanted to do, we really needed the knowledge, skills,training, and access to tools that the family provided.
Recently someone was talking to me and said that they would like to take that some path back to self-sufficiency, but they simply couldn't learn enough to be able to do everything, it struck me that we always think like this: its always about doing it alone. The cultural mythology is about the lone homesteader against the frightening wildness of the new land. The Canadian myth of survival (as Margret Atwood detailed) is always that one life silhouetted against the stark backdrop of this new country. We sing of the lone explorer searching for the way across this land, whether through the mountains of BC, across the drought-lands of the southern prairies, or at the top of the world searching for the North-West Passage. And, frankly, its pretty much bullshit.
Franklin, Palliser, Fraser, these guys weren't alone. They were part of teams. And their teams weren't lone explorers. They were ignorant goofs who were fed into the massive trade network that covered the Americas before European arrival by “native guides”.
But it has been necessary to build the myth that the Americas were empty land opened by Europeans—the truth is, those homesteaders were walking into functioning farms, villages, and cities emptied by European diseases. But rather than acknowledge our genocide, we would rather believe that strong individualists created nations out of nothing.
And even that is nonsense. Each incremental step in settling into First Nations lands was supported by developing infrastructure and supports. It did no good to homestead in Alberta if you couldn't get your products to market. You couldn't survive without manufactured goods coming from somewhere. Where people tried to do it alone ahead of the support structures, they quickly fell backwards through time, and looked more and more like the first Babylonian farmers, before they developed irrigation.
Because the truth is, we none of us do it alone. You need someone on the other end of that board, covering for you when you get sick, buying the stuff you make. You want to go back to the land? Start a small farm? There's not only a lot of other people interested in the same thing, but you'll be going into a functioning network of small businesses, suppliers, and the like who are there to help.
We are, whether we recognise it or not, members of communities; formal ones like trade unions, and informal ones like community supported agriculture members. We are social animals, not solitary ones (even if, like me, you like to be alone on occasion), and it is our communities that are important. And they create themselves. I'm reminded of reading Novella Carpenter's book and how the moment she started growing food in the unused lot next to her apartment block, a community spontaneously formed around the garden. Or how small actions around the world seemed to explode into the Occupy movement. Our actions can generate community, and our communities support us in our actions.
Because you're not alone. Nor am I. And the minute we look outside of ourselves, the instant we act, we discover we're not alone.

Carlin on Food Advertising

The world's grumpiest man takes on food advertising. Definitely NSFW--the language is pretty raw, but that's George. Carlin was always fascinated by language, and here it's how language has been perverted by advertising.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Monsanto, Roundup, and the Devil We Didn't Know

Female (9255) fed with the GMO
alone (22%) and developing a mammary adenocarcinoma
in a fibroadenoma
(day 645) photo: Criigen website

So what do we know? We know that Roundup-tolerant corn is approved for human consumption on the basis of 90-day rat trials. We know that groundwater levels have been approved on the strength of 90-day rat trials. We know that food activists (among whom I number myself) have been saying for years that 90-day rat trials are not really the best way to approve a radical new technology. We know that Monsanto, Cargill, and other plant science patent holders have said that all they need to do are 90-day rat trials, and that those trials are sufficient to approve and use a “substantially equivalent” genetically modified organism. And we know our governments have agreed.
But that was yesterday. Today is a different world. Today, the paper, "Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize" reporting on a study conducted by a team of scientists led by molecular biologist and endocrinologist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, (co-director of the Risk Quality and Sustainable Environment Unit at the University of Caen, France, who is an authority on studies into the health impact of GMO's and pesticides) has been published. This is the first study of both NK603 Roundup tolerant GM maize, and water containing Roundup at levels permitted in drinking water and GM crops in the US that has followed the test rats longer than the required 90 days—in fact, the study followed them through their entire 24 month life span. And the news is not good.
Whether the test rats were fed NK603 Roundup-tolerant maize (illegal in France, where the study was conducted, the maize had to be imported from Canada, where its use is approved), or whether they received a measured dose of Roundup in their drinking water, they developed two to three times more tumours than the control group. Tumours appeared in the male rats after four months and in the female rats after seven months. Tumours only began appearing in the female control group after 14 months, and in the male control group after 23 months.
Three groups were given Roundup in their drinking water, at three different levels consistent with exposure through the food chain from crops sprayed with the weedkiller: the mid level corresponded to the maximum level permitted in the US in some GM feed; the lowest corresponded to contamination found in some tap waters. Three groups were fed diets which contained different proportions of NK603—11%, 22% and 33%. Three groups were given both Roundup and NK603 at the same three dosages. The final control group was fed an equivalent diet with no Roundup or NK603 but containing 33% of equivalent non-GM maize.
So test populations dosed with Roundup-contaminated water, Roundup-tolerant NK603 maize, and both Roundup-contaminated water AND the NK603 maize. And as it turns out, it didn't matter. Both the maize and the Roundup, individually and together, triggered the same problems: Females developed fatal mammary tumours and pituitary disorders. Males suffered liver damage, developed kidney and skin tumours and experienced problems with their digestive system. Treated males suffered severe liver and kidney dysfunction. Liver congestion and necrosis were 2.5 to 5.5 times higher than in the control group. There were also 1.3 - 2.3 times more instances of "marked and severe" kidney disease. And this happened regardless of whether the rats received the lowest or the highest dose, or whether they received either the maize or the Roundup.
This tends to indicate that the doses exceed some important threshold level. Worse, the 50ng/L of glyphosate in R-formulation (that is to say, the lowest concentration of Roundup in drinking water in the tests) was a level found in some contaminated tap waters, a level of contamination which is legal in some jurisdictions, caused the same reaction as the higher levels of contamination.
Dr Michael Antoniou, molecular biologist at Kings College, London, and a member of the CRIIGEN scientific council, says:
"This is the most thorough research ever published into the health effects of GM food crops and the herbicide Roundup on rats. It shows an extraordinary number of tumors [sic] developing earlier and more aggressively - particularly in female animals. I am shocked by the extreme negative health impacts."
"The rat has long been used as a surrogate for human toxicity. All new pharmaceutical, agricultural and household substances are, prior to their approval, tested on rats. This is as good an indicator as we can expect that the consumption of GM maize and the herbicide Roundup, impacts seriously on human health."
And corn is contained in almost every manufactured food. Corn is ubiquitous in the food system as it is currently constituted, and practically all that corn is genetically modified maize (this does not apply to sweet corn as far as I know. Only to the maize grown for feed and industrial use).
This isn't just bad news for Monsanto, or other manufacturers of glyphosate. This throws into doubt every test done on food additives that was ended after 90 days. This study has not only dropped a bomb on GM corn, it has dropped one on the whole structure of additive approval. We have not been testing for long-term effects, and this study has demonstrated that we need to change that.

As is to be expected, there has been reaction to the study. Primarily, they seem to be centred around the statistical analysis and the sample size (ie. not enough rats). Tom Philpott, over at Mother Jones, has written a well researched piece on the burgeoning controversy:
Predictably, industry-aligned scientists are raising questions about the study, but even long-time critics like Consumers Union's Hansen have concerns. Now, Hansen stresses that the new paper is "longer and better designed than any of the industry studies," adding that the journal in question, Food and Chemical Toxicity, is "well-respected."
But the sample size—ten males and ten females per group—is simply too small to draw any conclusions, Hansen says. Moreover, he adds, the researchers used a strain of rat that is known to be highly prone to developing mammary tumors. That factor, plus the small sample size, means that the prevalence of mammary tumors found among the treated female rats could be happenstance, he said.

However, Hansen told me, while all of the individual comparisons—say, kidney dysfunction or mammary tumors between 10 females eating a certain level of GMO feed and 10 females eating non-GMO feed—are "statistically insignificant" because of sample size, taken as a whole, the results paint a troubling picture. Overall, the study made 54 comparisons between treated rats and control rats, and in all but four of them—two involving females, two involving males—the treated rats showed worse outcomes. "That's suggestive that there's something going on and there that should be further research," he said.
And, unlike me, Philpott has access to events like the press conference with study author Gilles-Eric Séralini, where he raised some of the concerns with the study design. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN), said:
 he's "intrigued" by the results, but isn't convinced. "I don't want to trash" the study, he said, "but I just don't see enough there that's very persuasive to me at this point." He added: "It does suggest to me that we need longer term feeding studies with GM foodstuff, in a standardized way with the right number of animals in each group so we can pick up the changes and be confident that they exist." He stressed that using enough rats to show robust, statistically significant results would be very expensive.
The expense of a larger sample size trial seems to be the reason the French study was so small. Large sample long-term animal studies are really expensive. Small non-industry-aligned groups, like Criigen, simply don't have the necessary cash to do massive studies. But, as said above, with the results viewed together this study does paint a troubling picture.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Top Twenty

Ploughman, via Wikipedia
The Royal Society has listed "The 20 Most Significant Inventions in the History of Food and Drink" this month. A group of fellows--including a Nobel winner--narrowed the field of 100 innovations down to the following twenty:

The Top 20
  1. Refrigeration
  1. Pasteurisation / sterilisation
  1. Canning
  1. The oven
  1. Irrigation
  1. Threshing  machine/combine harvester
  1. Baking
  1. Selective breeding / strains
  1. Grinding / milling
  1. The plough
  1. Fermentation
  1. The fishing net
  1. Crop rotation
  1. The pot
  1. The knife
  1. Eating utensils
  1. The cork
  1. The barrel
  1. The microwave oven
  1.  Frying
Some I might argue--like the microwave over rat-proof granariesor the amphora. After all, the amphora did manage to keep wine on board a sunken Roman ship in good shape for a thousand years (you know, until the Calypso crew opened and drank it). Some are really inarguable, like grinding/milling. After all, that helps transfer more calories than the consumption of whole grains. And cooking makes more calories available as well. And fermentation, wow! Beer AND bread!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Food Price Deflation / Inflation

Swedish farmer from Wikipedia

A report from Radobank in the Netherlands is being reported on (primarily) in the business press, suggests a rather miserable year or so ahead for consumers. As reported in the Guardian, the American drought of this summer has started off a mass cull of grain-fed stock, due to rising feed prices. This means primarily hog and beef herds are being rapidly reduced, but on can expect poultry to be next if prices continue to rise (chickens are one of the most efficient converters of grain to protein, but even they can become uneconomical if prices rise too far).
In the very short term, this liquidation means lower meat prices as farmers cut their hog herds back (hog herds can be rebuilt much quicker than cattle--six months or so as compared to a year and a half for cattle).
But even with the near term drop in prices, the long term outlook being predicted by Radobank is a 14% rise in the price of the average developed world food basket--primarily because of a rise in meat prices. Meat and dairy account for about 52% of the cost of the standard global food basket, so an increase in meat prices has a greater inflationary effect.
Nicholas Higgins, a Rabobank commodities analyst and author of the report, said: "There will be an initial glut in meat availability as people slaughter their animals to reduce their feed bills. But by next year herds will be so reduced that there won't be enough animals to meet expected demand and prices will soar."
The current liquidation has depressed pork prices, but by mid-2013, demand is expected to outstrip supply, and futures markets are already forward pricing a 31% increase for pork delivered in July 2013.
Rabobank predicts the overall price of the basket will soar to a record 243 on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) index next summer, which is well above the numbers the New England Complex Systems Institute suggest bring social unrest.It is not very likely that we will experience food riots in North America, as we have access to food alternatives--we can always switch back to staples if meat prices rise too high, so hunger is less of a factor here. But as I've said before, it's a hell of a way to test a theory.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Trans-Fatty Acids, An Ongoing Problem

image from Wikipedia

Trans-fatty acids (transfats or TFAs) occur in industrially hydrogenated oils--such as margarine. The process of hydrogenation (adding hydrogen atom pairs to, in this case, unsaturated fats in the presence of a catalyst) converts unsaturated fats into saturated fats (fats that are solid at room temperature) and TFAs. In the early 1900s, apparently half of the whale oil being harvested was treated this way to create a butter substitute similar to margarine.
That TFAs,when consumed in volumes of 5 grams a day or more, lead to an increased chance (23%) of coronary heart disease, is well established. Soft margarine contains far fewer transfats than a fully hydrogenated hard margarine, and some, like Becel, use a different technique for hydrogenation that produces very few transfats. Canada has only voluntary limits on transfat content in food, as does Europe. BMJ online is reporting:
In 2005, a large serving of French fries and nuggets, 100g of microwavable popcorn, and 100g of cake or biscuits or wafers provided more than 30g/100g of TFA in five EU countries in Eastern Europe and between 20g and 30g in eight Western European countries.

In 2009 the analysis revealed that the TFA content in French fries and nuggets had fallen substantially in all the European countries studied. But while the TFA content of popcorn, cakes and biscuits had fallen in Western European countries, this was not the case in Eastern Europe where it remained high.

The same portions still provided high TFA content of between 10g and 20g in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.  But the equivalent menu in Germany, France and the UK provided less than 2g.

Clearer food labelling is one way of curbing trans fatty acid intake, but most countries still rely on food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce the TFA content of their products, the authors point out.

Only a few countries—Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Iceland—have gone down the legislative route and forced industry to limit the amount of TFA used in foods to 2% of the total fat.

But foods containing trans fats, which can comprise up to 60% of the total fat content, can still legally be sold as shop bought packaged goods, or unpackaged in restaurants and fast food outlets elsewhere in Europe, the authors emphasise.
Clearly, we still have a long way to go. And yet, somehow creating actual regulations around food safety is off the table. Maybe I'm just too old-school; food purity regulation has been a responsibility of government since, well, forever--just as the problem of food adulteration has been around forever. And it strikes me that government failing in ensuring the provision of good food is a failed government. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pushback II

It's Baaack!!! photo:

Beef Products Inc. has made a splash this past week. After the eating public decided that they didn't really want ammoniated "lean finely textured beef" in their food chain--yes, the "pink slime" issue--BPI's business took a punch to the face. After Jaime Oliver's piece on ammoniated beef ran on ABC, " the firm says that what it describes as unfair coverage caused its sales to drop by 80 per cent, forcing the closure of three of its four plants. Roughly 700 workers were laid off, and the company estimates that it is still losing $20m per month in revenue." (The Independent). So they're taking pretty much everyone who ever used the words "pink slime" to court, having filed a lawsuit asking $1.2 billion (US) in damages from ABC.

Monday, September 17, 2012


I generally assume that by the time I know anything, everyone else already knows about it. Mostly, this is born from experience. But apparently its not actually the case when it comes to corporate ownership of organic brands. the New York Times is reporting that, while a battle is raging in California about adding "genetically modified" to labelling requirements.
Prop 37 is being fought tooth and nail--or dollars to pennies--by the major "Food manufacturers" like Kraft and Dean Foods. But Many of these corporate behemoths own various organic food producers--like Kashi.
From the article:
Their opposition stands in sharp contrast to smaller, independent organic companies, which generally favor labeling products that contain genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.’s. And it has raised a consumer reaction on social media that has led some of the organic brands to try to distance themselves from their corporate parents.
“We want to be clear that Kashi has not made any contributions to oppose G.M.O. labeling,” the brand said in a statement issued late last month after its Facebook page was inundated with comments from consumers saying they would no longer buy its products because its corporate owner, the Kellogg Company, has put more than $600,000 into fighting the ballot initiative.
But as recently as last week, consumers were still peppering the sites of Horizon, owned by Dean Foods; the J. M. Smucker Company, which has a number of organic products, and Kashi with expressions of betrayal and disappointment. “It is unconscionable for you to be funding the effort to defeat Proposition 37,” one post said.
Yes, but those dramatic growth rates for organic brands and foods, and those nice profit margins attract corporate America's attention. If for no other reason than industrial food production has essentially plateaued, delivering steady but unimpressive profits.
This is why we're seeing a radical change in the organic food landscape. Corporate farms using external organic inputs, and having finally got a labelling system in place that allows a certain amount of chemical and non-organic components, are seeing increased profits.
Corporate America is also willing to let others do the hard work of developing new products and new markets before coming in and buying up the business for long term exploitation. The money involved is impressive, as is the money the opponents of Prop 37 are putting into the fight.
So far, opponents of Proposition 37 have committed roughly $25 million to defeat it, with the largest contributions coming from Monsanto ($4.2 million) and DuPont ($4 million), which have made big investments in genetically engineered crops.
Several food companies are not far behind. PepsiCo, Nestlé, ConAgra Foods and Coca-Cola, which owns the Odwalla and Honest Tea brands, have each put more than $1 million in the fight, while General Mills, which owns organic stalwarts like Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm as well as popular upstarts like Lärabar and Food Should Taste Good, has spent more than $900,000.
Yup. $25 million to make sure you and I don't really know what's going on with our food. You have to figure that they see the expense as worth it. Some of us might not feel quite the same way.
So if you're in California, you might want to support Prop 37. After all, this is exactly the same way we got better emission and mileage standards in cars back in the '70s. Cali passed the first laws, and eventually the federal government had to follow suit.
Outside California, you might want to shop the outer edges of the supermarket pretty much exclusively. And plant a garden, eh?

Friday, September 14, 2012

More, Please

A good friend of mine tweeted about the "Feed a chicken, milk a goat" weekend planned by the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. Open Farm Day is set to involve about 60 farms and as many people as they can get to come out and visit.
"Open Farm Day is a backstage pass for consumers to see, first-hand, the hard work, skill and dedication of our farmers," said Beth Densmore, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, in a news release. "It helps reconnect people to where their food is coming from."
In Nova Scotia, there are about 3,900 farms employing about 5,200 people. In 2011, the industry generated $539.7 million in farm cash receipts and $229 million in international exports. The dairy sector  was the primary revenue generator--which makes sense, because farmers produce under the Milk Marketing Board. It means we pay more for milk than people do in the US, but it also means that our farmers are paid something a lot closer to the actual cost of production. 
But things like farm visits are important. People, in my experience from doing fresh markets, want to connect with their food, their farmers, and the land.  

Alzheimer's Me

That's not cauliflower...

George Monbiot has brought to our attention that there seems to be a strong link between "junk food" consumption and Alzheimer's--now in the process of being renamed type 3 diabetes.
Even if you can detach yourself from the suffering caused by diseases arising from bad diets, you will carry the cost, as a growing proportion of the health budget will be used to address them. The cost – measured in both human suffering and money – could be far greater than we imagined. A large body of evidence now suggests that Alzheimer's is primarily a metabolic disease. Some scientists have gone so far as to rename it: they call it type 3 diabetes.
New Scientist carried this story on its cover on 1 September; since then I've been sitting in the library, trying to discover whether it stands up. I've now read dozens of papers on the subject, testing my cognitive powers to the limit as I've tried to get to grips with brain chemistry. Though the story is by no means complete, the evidence so far is compelling.
About 35 million people suffer from Alzheimer's disease worldwide; current projections, based on the rate at which the population ages, suggest that this will rise to 100 million by 2050. But if, as many scientists now believe, it is caused largely by the brain's impaired response to insulin, the numbers could rise much further. In the United States, the percentage of the population with type 2 diabetes, which is strongly linked to obesity, has almost trebled in 30 years. If Alzheimer's, or "type 3 diabetes", goes the same way, the potential for human suffering is incalculable.
This is not about obesity, as such. This is about the ways in which we process our food.  The food we eat has been produced by, as George Monbiot says, "A scarcely regulated food industry [which] can engineer its products – loading them with fat, salt, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup – to bypass the neurological signals that would otherwise prompt people to stop eating." How are we supposed to fight that? It takes a committed government intervention to ensure that, even if it does no real good, at least our food system does no harm. Yet we have a Prime Minister in Canada who is religiously committed to removing all regulation on business.
We can resist as individuals, but we are caring for the results as a society. It would seem, therefore, that we could insist, as a society, that first we do no harm. And the funny thing is, if we did brign about the revolution in our food supply that we so desperately need, it would also serve to democratise the wealth in our food system as well. More producers sharing the pot, well, that's something we can't even imagine in Harper's Canada.
BTW, a fully referenced version of George Monbiot's The Mind Theives can be found here.