Friday, June 28, 2013

A Quick Round-up

The Globe and Mail ran an excellent obit of Tony Koulakis, the owner of the Montreal greasy spoon Cosmo Snack Bar.
Out went high-falutin’ words like “nouveau,” “au jus” and “reduction.” Montreal foodies, their palates jaded by decades of haute cuisine, fairly tripped over themselves to find multiple ways of saying “artery-clogging,” “heart attack on a plate” and “the ultimate hangover food.”
“Out of this world” was a standard.
For 35 years behind the counter at Cosmo Snack Bar, on Montreal’s Sherbrooke Street West, proprietor Tony Koulakis (no, his name wasn’t Cosmo) served up all-day breakfasts that would cause palpitations in cardiologists. Eggs, bacon, glistening sausage and Tony’s signature hash brown potatoes, in portions fit for a stevedore, were heaped onto plates that were often chipped – that is, if you could snag one of the 11 rickety vinyl-topped diner stools at the counter (some regulars preferred the ones plastered with duct tape). Tables? Only outside on the sidewalk, in the summer.
When smoking was still allowed in restaurants, four of the stools were designated “non-smoking.” Bills would be randomly rounded up or down.
The very definition of the greasy spoon, the hole-in-the-wall eatery is a Montreal landmark where, on weekends especially, diners stand three-deep to tuck into: The “Creation” sandwich, an egg, salami, lettuce, tomato and cheese monstrosity (it used to contain sausage as well, until that was deemed overkill); the Good Morning Burger, a hamburger topped by a fried egg; and the ungodly MishMash omelette: bacon, four eggs, ham, sausage, salami, tomatoes, onions and cheese, all fried in margarine, with a side of hash browns (the concoction was once sent for chemical analysis and clocked in at a gut-busting 1,800 calories).
Nothing cost more than $10. And the place offered 15 types of bread. It was once estimated that Mr. Koulakis went through 25 loaves of rye, kimmel and black Russian bread a day, and fried 20 dozen eggs and 25 pounds of bacon every day, too.
From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., every day but Monday, the mustachioed, baseball-capped Tony laughed, cooked, kibbitzed and faux-hollered. And smoked. Quebec’s politics and hockey were always on the menu. Out of milk? No problem – just send a diner across the street to the grocery. When orders were placed, he would call out, “nice breakfast, Niki!” Which worked, because the person holding the spatula was often either his daughter, Niki, or his son, Nikos, standing maybe a metre away. Or both.
We would all be lucky to have an obit that good.
Also in the Globe is an article by Charles Abbott, discussing the proposed purchase of Smithfield Foods (the world's largest pork processor) by  Shuanghui International Holdings of China. The part that interested me?
Led by Ms Stabenow, 15 of the 20 senators on the Agriculture Committee and the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee wrote last week to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to say food security must be a factor when regulators decide whether to approve the sale. (emphasis mine)
The letter recommends that food safety and and food supply experts should be given roles in the review process, while China's Commerce Ministry said "the transaction was unrelated to food safety issues." really? Because what gets me is how when it's a foreign government taking over US food chain suppliers, it's about food safety and security. But when it's US giants taking over the food chain of other countries, it's about free trade.
Of course it's about security and safety. It is more difficult to ensure compliance with food safety when dealing with foreign-held corporations. the few government regulations that are still in place are more difficult to enforce--look at Canada's relationship with Tyson.
But more interesting still is the issue of food security raising it's head. When the goal of a company is to use one country to supply the food needs of another, how can you ensure food security in both countries? Under international trade regimes currently in place, you can't. If you try, your government can, and will be, sued under the WTO rules. Canada's had that happen too many times just with the US for it to be considered a theoretical occurrence.
But with international trade regulation superseding national sovereignty, perhaps it's time for a re-think. We could ignore the international food trade--at least for the most part--and under the rubric of national security, devise a second, more secure, local food system. Set a goal: "The national secure food system must be able to supply 80% of  the country's food needs," and insist that this means fruits/vegetables/grains/proteins. Standards of production for the system could be set higher than those for the industrial food system (think "organic" and "sustainable"). And covered under "national security," it would be much harder to subvert. Yeah, I think there's an idea here.....
And finally, the Globe is also reporting that:
Over the past five years, food prices have risen at nearly double the rate of the rest of items used to calculate the consumer price index, according to an analysis by Statistics Canada.
While the price of the items went up by a cumulative 10.7 per cent during that time period, food prices went up by 19 per cent.
Even the economic crash didn't slow the pace--while most other items became cheaper between October, 2008, and January, 2009--food prices continued to rise, both in Canada and around the world. Between 2007 and 2008 international food prices increased by 58 per cent. Of the 39 countries the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development tracked between 2007 and 2012 the majority, 24 countries, saw food prices go up greater rate than overall inflation. (sic) Globe and Mail, B3, 28 June, 2013.
It wasn't your imagination. You really are getting kicked in the stomach. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Attention is Being Paid

This editorial ran in the New York Times on Friday 14 June. The situation is worse here in Canada, with the federal government under Stephen Harper (he rebranded the Government of Canada as the "Harper Government", so I say "let him wear it. History will not absolve him") has launched a series of attacks on oversight on industry. From the dismantling of the Experimental Lakes program to removing rivers from DFO's watch to the demonising of environmentalists as "terrorists", Harper has attacked both democracy as well as the notion of the public good.
But attention is being paid. Citizens in Canada and around the world are noticing the assaults on democracy. eventually the one percent will be faced with an outraged citizenry  demending restrictions be enforced on their activities for the good of society and the good of the planet.

The E.P.A. Backs Off on Factory Farms

The Environmental Protection Agency is obliged under the Clean Water Act to monitor America’s waterways and shield them from the toxic runoff from factory farms. But the growth of that industry, and its courtroom tenacity, has far outstripped the E.P.A.’s efforts to restrict runoff from manure lagoons and feedlots.
Last year, the agency meekly withdrew two proposed rules. One would have gathered basic information from all factory farms. The other proposed rule would have expanded the number of such farms required to have a national pollution discharge permit. Fewer than 60 percent do now.
Then, last week, in yet another retreat, the agency announced that promised new regulations governing feedlot discharges nationally would not be forthcoming.
According to the E.P.A.’s own studies, agricultural runoff is the leading cause of impaired water quality. The amount of manure produced by factory farms is staggering. The agency estimates that those operations create between 500 million and 1 billion tons of manure, three times as much waste as humans produce in the United States. The task of keeping those hundreds of millions of tons of animal waste out of rivers, lakes and estuaries is enormous, clearly requiring a strong set of revised regulations for the handling of factory-farm waste, including provisions for tracking waste when it’s been moved offsite.
Right now, the patchwork of regulations — which assume a great deal of self-policing — suits the factory-farm industry all too well. So does the E.P.A.’s inability to gather even the most basic information about those farms. The industry believes that the less consumers know, the better. President Obama’s nominee to lead the E.P.A., Gina McCarthy, is still awaiting Senate confirmation. If and when she gets the job, she should make it an early priority to get the data she needs to shed light on — and forcefully regulate — an industry that thrives on ignorance.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Food Link-straveganza

via Wikipedia

Science Daily is reporting on a new, better quality climate model that should help with crop predictions in a changing climate:
In a paper appearing in Nature Climate Change, members of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project unveiled an all-encompassing modeling system that integrates multiple crop simulations with improved climate change models. AgMIP's effort has produced new knowledge that better predicts global wheat yields while reducing political and socio-economic influences that can skew data and planning efforts, said Bruno Basso, Michigan State University ecosystem scientist and AgMIP member.
"Quantifying uncertainties is an important step to build confidence in future yield forecasts produced by crop models," said Basso, with MSU's geological sciences department and Kellogg Biological Station. "By using an ensemble of crop and climate models, we can understand how increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, along with temperature increases and precipitation changes, will affect wheat yield globally."
The improved crop models can help guide the world's developed and developing countries as they adapt to changing climate and create policies to improve food security and feed more people, he added.
via Wikipedia
 The Mail has published an (adapted) excerpt of Michael Pollen's new book Cooked:
For more than a century we have been engaged in a war on bacteria. We deploy an arsenal of antibiotics, hand sanitisers, pasteurisation and food regulations to tackle the moulds and bacteria and so, we hope, hold off disease and death.I grew up on that field of battle. My mother instilled in our family a deep fear of botulism, and countless other unnamed germs possibly lurking in our food.
A touch of white on a wedge of cheese was enough to condemn it.
The slightest dent in a can of food consigned it to the rubbish, no matter that the dent came from being dropped on the floor. You never know, could be botulism; better safe than sorry.
In the decades since Louis Pasteur discovered bacteria, medical research has focused mainly on their role in causing disease.
The bacteria that reside in and on our bodies were generally regarded as either harmless freeloaders, or pathogens to be defended against.
But then in the early 2000s, researchers discovered hundreds of new species of bacteria in the human gut doing all sorts of unexpected things.
To their surprise, microbiologists discovered that we are made up of 90 per cent bacteria. Nine out of every ten cells in our bodies are not human but belong to these microbial species (most of them residents of our gut).
As one scientist put it to me, we 'stand on the verge of a paradigm shift in our understanding of health as well as our relationship to other species'.
via Wikipedia

The Portland Press Herald is reporting on Maine's passage of a GMO labelling bill. With enough state's passing bills like this, it won't be necessary to pass federal legislation:
Maine is on track to join several other states attempting to require food producers to label food containing genetically modified ingredients, following a landslide vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The 141-4 vote on L.D. 718, a bill sponsored by Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, sets the stage for a legal entanglement between the state and agribusiness and biotech industry giant Monsanto, which has already threatened to sue states that pass similar labeling laws. The political battle between industry interests and the well-organized supporters of L.D. 718 has raged behind the scenes for several months at the State House, as the biotech industry fights to blunt a popular movement that has taken the GMO fight to at least 18 other state legislatures following failed attempts to pass labeling legislation in Congress.

via Wikipedia
 With the rise of the urban chicken, this article from Chickens on Camera is particularly apt:
ERROR #2: Not Giving Your Chickens Proper Ventilation.
Building a chicken coop is to protect your flock. The purpose of your coop is to protect your chickens from the element and outside predators, but you also need to give them proper ventilation. Free movement of air inside the coop is very important, but you do not want to freeze your chickens with a draft. Chickens, are like humans, they can only perform at their optimum levels if all of their basic needs are met first, in this case protection and oxygen. A Chicken coop without free air movement and therefore more oxygen will have high carbon monoxide levels and humidity levels. This is not good because uncomfortable chickens do not produce as many eggs. It is also very dangerous because it makes mold growth within the walls very easy.

And the BC Food Security Gateway has a link to the University of British Columbia Sustainable Campus Food Guide.  It's so great to see all the work being done in my home province on changing the food system.  And BCSFG is a significant part of that.

And now I'm off to cook lunch  for a hundred or so of my fellow citizens at the Victoria Rainbow Kitchen. Hope you all have a good weekend.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Africa and the Food Crisis of 2013

From the MaplecroftFood Security Report

From Al Jazeera:
"Although a food crisis has not emerged yet, there is potential for food-related upheaval across the most vulnerable regions," including sub-Saharan African and Arab states, Helen Hodge, head of maps and indices at Maplecroft, said.
Maplecroft said that low crop yields had pushed global food prices up by six per cent in July 2012, raising concerns of a repeat of the 2007/2008 food crisis.
The crisis had culminated in a series of food riots across several countries, including Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mexico, Senegal and Yemen.
“Food price forecasts for 2013 provide a worrying picture,” Hodge said.

Monbiot on the Corporate Carve-Up

If you haven't already, you should read George Monbiot--in this case, on the corporate carve-up of Africa.
David Cameron’s purpose at the G8, as he put it last month, is to advance “the good of people around the world”. Or, as Rudyard Kipling expressed it during the previous scramble for Africa, “To seek another’s profit, / And work another’s gain … / Fill full the mouth of Famine / And bid the sickness cease”. Who could doubt that the best means of doing this is to cajole African countries into a new set of agreements, which allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets?
Nigeria is making light of these concerns:
Under its "co-operation framework", Nigeria will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in funding – subject to availability – from donors including the US, France, Germany and the UK. In addition, 28 companies have signed letters of intent to invest in a range of projects. Most of the companies are Nigerian, but big multinationals – including Cargill, Syngenta and Unilever – have also signed letters of intent.
Cargill, a private company and one of the dominant firms in the grain business, is investing in starch and sweeteners to realise the potential for cassava. By buying cassava from smallholder farmers and also investing in a sweetener plant, said Adesina, Cargill will be working with smallholder farmers to create a market.
 The best part of this all is that no-one will ever be held accountable if famine isn't, in fact, conquered. If leaders happen to skim money off the top and leave their countries enslaved to international ag corporations, well, it won't matter. They'll never be in the dock, and the policies will never be rescinded--even if they are the result of graft and corruption. Failure, famine, criminality, none of these bring any consequences at all. So everbody's happy--except maybe the poor people trying to live through it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Breakdown of "Substantially Similar"

via wikipedia

A significant number of genetically modified (GM) crops have been approved to enter human food and animal feed since 1996, including crops containing several GM genes 'stacked' into the one plant. We randomised and fed isowean pigs (N=168) either a mixed GM soy and GM corn (maize) diet (N=84) or an equivalent non-GM diet (N=84) in a long- term toxicology study of 22.7 weeks (the normal lifespan of a commercial pig from weaning to slaughter). Equal numbers of male and female pigs were present in each group. The GM corn contained double and triple-stacked varieties. Feed intake, weight gain, mortality and blood biochemistry were measured. Organ weights and pathology were determined post-mortem. There were no differences between pigs fed the GM and non-GM diets for feed intake, weight gain, mortality, and routine blood biochemistry measurements. The GM diet was associated with gastric and uterine differences in pigs. GM-fed pigs had uteri that were 25% heavier than non-GM fed pigs (p=0.025). GM-fed pigs had a higher rate of severe stomach inflammation with a rate of 32% of GM-fed pigs compared to 12% of non-GM-fed pigs ( p=0.004). The severe stomach inflammation was worse in GM-fed males compared to non-GM fed males by a factor of 4.0 (p=0.041), and GM-fed females compared to non-GM fed females by a factor of 2.2 (p=0.034).
So runs the abstract of the new paper A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet published in the Journal of Organic Systems (JOS) Vol.8 No.1 (2013).
Dr. Carman, in her clear English explanation of the study (pdf), says:
Some of the investigators had previously seen a reduced ability to conceive and higher rates of miscarriage in piggeries where sows were fed a GM diet, and a reduction in the number of piglets born if boars were used for conception rather than artificial insemination. Artificial insemination guarantees the presence of a certain number of viable sperm. Because male pigs were neutered at 3 days of age in order to provide meat free of boar-taint, we were only able to look at the female reproductive system in these pigs. We found that, on average, the weight of the uterus of pigs fed the GM diet, as a proportion of the weight of the pig, was 25% higher than the control pigs. We found that this biologically significant finding was also statistically significant. We list some of the pathologies that could be occurring in these uteri in the paper.

Some of the investigators had also previously seen higher rates of intestinal problems in pigs fed a GM diet, including inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, stomach ulcers, a thinning of intestinal walls and an increase in haemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can rapidly “bleed-out” from their bowel and die. We weren't able to look inside the intestines, due to the amount of food in them, but we were able to look inside the stomach. We found that the level of severe inflammation in stomachs was markedly higher in pigs fed the GM diet. Pigs on the GM diet were 2.6 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation than control pigs. Males were more strongly affected. While female pigs were 2.2 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation when on the GM diet, males were 4 times more likely. These findings are both biologically significant and statistically significant.

We found that these key findings were not reflected in the standard biochemistry tests that are done in GM feeding studies, probably because standard biochemistry tests provide a poor measure of inflammation and matters associated with uterus size. We did however find a marginally significant change on a measure of liver health in the blood of GM-fed pigs.

GMO seeds were allowed into the food system without extensive or multi-generational testing because they were "substantially similar" to foods already in use.  It's starting to become scientifically apparent that this was a mistake.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Post-Drought Problems

The New York Times is reporting:
Since the beginning of the year, parts of the Mississippi River basin, from eastern Minnesota down through Illinois and Missouri, have received up to three times their normal precipitation. Storm systems also brought flooding to parts of Montana and the Dakotas, and into Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma. Iowa, the nation’s top corn producer, had a record 17.66 inches of precipitation this spring.
Just over 44 percent of the country remains in drought, down more than 9 percentage points from the beginning of March.
Ideally, farmers need the top two to four inches of soil to be dry when they are planting so that when they drive their tractors in the field they do not pack down the mud, which prevents the roots from getting oxygen. Oversaturated earth also means that pockets where oxygen can filter through to help the roots breathe will instead be filled with water. Ideally, the moisture should be in the soil directly below the seed.
 This was a problem last year in the UK, where a large part of the island was suddenly under water. This year, parts of the mid-west. The more-frequent occurence of outlier events such as these reinforce the need for a more resilient, less industrial, agriculture system.
So, say goodbye to the holocene era and hello to the anthropocene era.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday Food Link-straveganza

Image sourced from Wikipedia

Well, we know bees are having a difficult time of it. And now its looking like neonicotinoid pesticides have a lot to do with it. Canada and Britain are both resisting the call to ban the neonicotinoids. The UK  Parliament’s  report on neonicotinoid pesticides and their effect on bees can be accessed here. The BBC commentary is here.

Source: Wikipedia

Over at, there's some comment on the new Ontario Medical Association report that looks at the link between antibiotic-resistant microbes and intensive livestock production. From localfoodplus:
According to the OMA’s report, “antibiotics are not as effective as they once were because bacteria are adapting to them … these resistant bacteria are germs that cause infections like pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and skin infections.”
“Patients are at risk of becoming sicker, taking longer to recover, and in some cases dying from previously treatable diseases,” said OMA president Doug Weir in the report’s press release.
This alarming medical regression poses a rising threat over both patients’ health and the healthcare system. Pointing to already visible Health Care expenses, the OMA cites the increasing costs of MRSA (which Mother Jones defines as “an often-deadly, antibiotic-resistant staph infection”)  at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
In 2001, the presence of MRSA across Canada was estimated to cost $50 million; in 2010, the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCCID) estimated that the costs would reach between $104-$187 million annually due to escalating  antibiotic resistance – more than double in approximately 10 years.
While the report lays some culpability upon individuals to use antibiotics more “responsibly” and doctors to “keep better track of [their] patients’ antibiotic histories,” the OMA points a looming finger in the direction on Ontario’s agri-business complex.
Currently, it’s standard practice in Ontario’s agricultural industry to administer antibiotics to healthy animals for the purpose of ‘disease prevention’ and ‘growth acceleration’ – a practice that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) defines as “intensive, non-therapeutic” antibiotic use.

Algeria famine 1869. Source: Wikipedia

The BBC has been reporting that the only thing we learn from the history of famnine is that we learn nothing from the history of famine--as detailed by the new report from UK think-tank Chatham House:
Famine early warning systems have a good track record of predicting food shortages but are poor at triggering early action, a report has concluded.
The study said the opportunity for early action was being missed by governments and humanitarian agencies.
It said the "disconnect" was starkly apparent in Somalia where no action was taken despite 11 months of warnings.
Up to two million people are estimated to have died in drought-related emergencies since 1970.
The report by UK think-tank Chatham House, Managing Famine Risk: Linking Early Warning to Early Action, looked at the issue of drought-related emergencies on a global scale but focused on the Horn of Africa and the Sahel regions.
"The regions are quite unique in a way because you have these droughts, where there are normally successive failed rains; then you have a process whereby you have subsequent harvest failures then people adopt coping strategies," explained report author Rob Bailey.
Hand of Fatima, Mali. source: Wikipedia

 At Foodfirst, Camille Vignerot and Tiffany Tsang  wrote a piece about the current food crisis in Mali.
Food crises have plagued Mali in recent years due to drought and recurring political conflicts.
The January 2012 massacre of Malian soldiers by armed Tuareg fighters in the far north precipitated the Malian coup in March of 2012 by the National Committee for Recovering Democracy and Restoring the State (NCRDRS). That and the subsequent struggle in the north of Mali involving two groups of Tuareg (Ansar Dine and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), both followed a severe drought in the 2011-2012 season.
In 2011, Mali received only one month of rain, compared to the usual three. As a result, only 11% of Mali’s farmers were able to save seed for the following year’s planting season. This cut the country’s 2012 seed supply by half, severely affecting the rice-growing area in the Mopti region. The drought forced pastoralists to move their animals north six months earlier than usual that year because of a lack of floodplain pasture along the Niger River. This led to overgrazing in northern pastures as usual staggered migrations were disrupted. Those pastoralists who did stay in the southern region were trapped between the sparse floodplains and the violent north. The increased grazing pressure on the land led to conflicts with farmers, especially in the Mopti region.
Leaving famine behind for the land of MOAR!, Michael Pollen is interviewed for the Center for Consumer Freedom.

Saltspring Island via Wikipedia
 Mussels are sustainably raised near here on Saltspring Island by Saltspring Island Mussels. (warning! site contains recipes!)
Also local are the ICC:
The Island Chefs Collaborative (icc) are a liked-minded community of chefs and food and beverage professionals with a common interest in regional food security, the preservation of farmland and the development of local food systems.
And of course if you haven't seen it yet, Bill Gates cracks me up with his Food is Ripe for Innovation essay over at
I’ve gotten to learn about several new food companies that are creating plant-based alternatives to meat through some monetary investments I’ve made with Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins. Their products are at least as healthy as meat and are produced more sustainably.
But what makes them really interesting is their taste. Food scientists are now creating meat alternatives that truly taste like — and have the same “mouth feel” — as their nature-made counterparts (see two recipes below, for example).
Flavor and texture have been the biggest hurdles for most people in adopting meat alternatives. But companies like Beyond Meat, Hampton Creek Foods and Lyrical are doing some amazing things. Their actual recipes are secret, but the science is straightforward. By using pressure and precisely heating and cooling oils and plant proteins (like powdered soybeans and vegetable fiber), you can achieve the perfect flavor and texture of meat or eggs.
I tasted Beyond Meat’s chicken alternative, for example, and honestly couldn’t tell it from real chicken. Beyond Eggs, an egg alternative from Hampton Creek Foods, does away with the high cholesterol content of real eggs. Lyrical has drastically reduced fat in its non-dairy cheeses. Even things like salt are getting a makeover: Nu-Tek has found a way to make potassium chloride taste like salt (and nothing but salt) with only a fraction of the sodium.
All this innovation could be great news for people concerned about health problems related to overconsumption of fat, salt and cholesterol. It’s important too in light of the environmental impacts of large-scale meat and dairy production, with livestock estimated to produce nearly 51% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
The man should be doing stand-up....

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Food Security and Global Warming

From Al Jazeera:
Researchers are warning that rising global temperatures could see a shift in the world's traditional staples and who grows them.
They predict that maize, wheat and rice production will decrease in many developing countries - forcing farmers to replace them with crops more resistant to heat, drought and flooding.

The prediction, if true, would put more pressure on a world already facing a potential crisis over global food security.

The UN commissioned report says yields of the world's three main sources of calories will decrease by 2050, as temperatures rise.

Wheat is forecast to drop by 13 per cent in developing countries, while rice could see yields fall by 15 per cent. And maize farmers in Africa could lose up to 20 per cent of their crops.

We can see the Great Famine coming. But we're really not planning on doing anything to avoid it....

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


If you're a gardener and you haven't read this, you really should. Anne Raver writes in the NYT about grafting tomatoes.
“You can use the rootstock with whatever variety you like to make it more disease-resistant and more productive,” Mr. Mefferd said. “But grafting is definitely a pain, and it takes practice.”
The good news is that you can buy ready-to-plant grafted tomatoes at your local garden center or through mail-order outlets like Territorial Seed Company and White Flower Farm.
As Barbara Pierson, the nursery manager for White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Conn., said: “It’s not just hype; it really works. And I was a nonbeliever. I grew regular Brandywines on their own roots next to grafted ones and got three times as many. And I got them earlier, too.”
Mr. Mefferd, who oversees the tomato trials at Johnny’s, added: “We’ve seen a 30 to 50 percent boost in yield without any decrease in flavor. The fruits look the same, you just get more of them.”
The greater root mass of these grafted plants draws more water and nutrients from the soil, so they need less irrigation and fertilizing. And because they are resistant to many pests and diseases, grafted tomatoes have helped farmers worldwide to greatly reduce the use of methyl bromide, a gas used to fumigate soil pests that depletes the stratospheric ozone layer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Stop Food Banks Now!

I'm in love! Over at Civilieats they're talking about:
What if the little old ladies who run the neighborhood church food pantry rebelled? What if they said “we’re 70 years old, we’ve been feeding people for 20 years, and hell if we want to do it for another 20?” What if they demanded that the government reduce the incidence of poverty so that food pantries don’t need to exist in the first place?
Hard to imagine? Well, that’s exactly what has happened in the province of Ontario. With the support of an experienced community organizer, volunteers from emergency meal programs, and food banks (what we call a food pantry in the U.S.) have decided to form a “union.” They’re calling it Freedom 90, a spoof on the “Freedom 55” financial planning advertisements that promise the good life to Canadians who work hard and invest their savings wisely, so they can retire by 55.
Tongue in cheek, yet deadly serious, these volunteers want to “retire” by the time they hit 90. They are tired of the perpetual emergency of having to provide free food boxes every week for the past two decades, but are compelled to continue because of the need they see in their communities.
We're thirty years into a slow-motion famine in Canada. And what's worse, it is a famine that was planned for, and brought about by, our own government in order to funnel more money into the pockets of the 1%. They knew what they were doing, they decided to do it, and they were amply warned when they did it. But no member of the Mulroney government (or any of those that followed without reversing the policies) will ever be brought to bar to answer for the destruction and death their policies have caused.
Food security is thought (viz. Watts and Bohle in The space of vulnerability: the causal structure of hunger and famine  Progress in Human Geography 17:43-67.) is a function of elements: the exposure to a risk or hazard, the capacity to adapt to this hazard, and the potential of the problem to have severe consequences. While most threats to food security come from natural hazards--lack of rainfall, global warming, desertification-- we don't expect the hazard to be caused by our own government. Particularly not in a "democracy" such as ours. But that is exactly what the neo-liberal policies pursued under Mulroney et al. have done. Food banks sprang up immediately as the Mulroney government attacked income re-distributive programmes in Canada. And they have never gone away.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Shaken to the Stalk

Wheat photo via wikipedia

Over at the Guardian, they're reporting on the finding of genetically-modified wheat in the US food system this past week:
The discovery of rogue genetically modified wheat in a farmer's field in Oregon shook global confidence in the safety of America's food supply on Friday.
Billions in food exports were potentially at stake following the disclosure by the US Department of Agriculture of the existence of the GM wheat plants.
The GM variant, developed by the agricultural giant Monsanto, has never been approved for human consumption.
The discovery in Oregon, about a decade after field trials ended in that state, raised concerns among the main buyers of America's wheat abroad, as well as an increasingly active GM movement at home.
The European Union advised member states on Friday to test some wheat shipments from the US. The EU imports more than 1.1m tonnes of wheat a year.
Asia was also shutting its doors to American wheat imports. South Korea, which last year imported half of its wheat from the US, cancelled imports, following Japan's lead. Thailand puts its ports on alert. China and the Philippines said they were closely watching the USDA's investigations into the GM escape.
"It's going to be a pretty serious blow to all wheat farmers. I would imagine probably the price of wheat is already going down some," said Fred Kirschenmann, a senior fellow at the Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, who himself farms 2,600 acres of organic wheat.
"It is definitely going to have an impact because it is right at the time when there is increasing concern about GM and food so this is not going to be good news for the wheat farmers."
Yes, it's Monsanto. Yes, it's already in the food supply. And yes, we've seen this before with Starlink corn--GM corn designed to be used as animal feed that made it's way into the food chain without being approved for human consumption. I'm tempted to see a conspiracy in this--get it in the food chain, claim that means it is safe, get approval--but there's never a need for conspiracy when human stupidity is so powerful an actor. And there's no reason to think it isn't in the Canadian food supply--but you can bet CFIA won't be out looking for it.
But the thing is, this affects trade and trade agreements. The EU doesn't allow GM wheat. Nor do a number of other countries. The threat of stopping wheat imports because of contamination by GM varieties will be a powerful motivator for both the US government and US farmers to ensure that GM wheat varieties are not allowed.
But GM wheat never gained a foothold because of widespread public resistance, and Monsanto did not pursue efforts for its commercial development.
However, the company conducted widespread testing of GM wheat in 16 states between 1998 and 2005. The last such test fields in Oregon were planted a decade ago in 2001, the USDA said.
Those decisions could now return to haunt the US, said Danielle Nierenberg, founder of The Food Tank. "We have spent a lot of time in the last few years putting China and other countries down for food safety issues, but we are messing with people's faith in the food system here," she said. "The US has a long history of claiming we have the safest and most abundant food system in the world and this undermines that." (from the Guardian article)

If we learned anything from the Percy Schmeiser case, it's that GM seed is quite willing to cross-pollinate with non-gmo varieties. And that, should such cross-pollination occur, Monsanto gets to claim that your seed as theirs. Which makes keeping seed-stock clean a real battle.
It is very depressing to say, but pressure from wheat importing countries will have far more affect on the question of GM foods than all the citizen action groups we can muster. Because democracy is no longer about citizens, it's reserved for dollars. Dollars count where people don't.