Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Food Security Link-straveganza

Oh, those GMOs. Nathaniel Johnson at Grist has been doing an in-depth series of reports on whether GMOs matter. It's a series that has raised more than a few hackles in the green world, particularly because he has come to the conclusion that spending our political capital opposing GMOs is a waste of time, energy, and money.
Johnson's series is worth reading, as is Tom Philpott's response, and Ramez Naam's generally pro-GMO article. But, kas Nathaniel Johnson writes in his most recent article:
[...]I want to add a note of caution: There’s an entire industry pushing the argument that GMOs are the solution. I agree with the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development that GMOs could be part of the solution, but we shouldn’t let the hype distract us from all the other ideas out there.
There are lots of problems associated with GMOs. I just want to focus directly on fixing those problems, rather than turning GMOs into a vague representative boogieman. I see problems with seed patents, problems with overuse of pesticides, problems with the lack of funding for research on agricultural alternatives. I care deeply about these things. But I’m worried that the discussion has become so ossified over GMOs that it’s not helping those causes. We’ve focused so tightly on GMOs that people tend to lose sight of those bigger things.

Raw Story is reporting that Golden Rice, that long-touted but otherwise invisible genetically modified crop that's supposed to save millions from blindness may actually be a go:
The first genetically-modified rice to be commercially available could be approved for production in the Philippines in two to three years, researchers said Tuesday, despite strong opposition from environmental groups.
Officers of both the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine government’s agriculture department said the newly-developed “golden rice” had completed field trials, despite vandalism at one test field.
“Golden rice is coming. That is in the pipeline and a lot of the principal development and research has been completed,” said Achim Dobermann, deputy director-general of IRRI.
“At the moment, there is no GM (genetically-modified) rice officially released in any country,” he stressed.
No word on the actual vitamin A content of the rice, or whether kids would still be better off eating a half a carrot a month as a nutrient source. But Golden Rice, which has been in development for at least 25 years was supposed to be the criticism-killer of GMOs, developed with world health rather than tawdry financial gain in mind. Of course, when the Australians decided to breed salt-tolerant wheat, they did it with conventional breeding, meaning that farmers will be allowed to save their own seed.
Raw Story is also reporting on GM trials in the UK of a new genetically modified version of camelina that is high in fish oils:
A genetically-modified plant that produces seeds packed with fish oils is set to be grown in open fields in the UK within months, scientists announced on Friday. The oils could provide feed for farmed fish, the researchers hope, but they could ultimately be used as a health supplement in human foods such as margarine.
Fish oils – specifically omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids – have been shown to cut the risk of cardiovascular disease and are a popular food supplement. But about 80% of the fish oil harvested from the oceans every year is actually fed to other fish being raised in aquaculture. With many fish stocks already over-exploited, the government-funded researchers from Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire have spent 15 years developing the new GM plant and hope to have permission for field trials by March, with planting to start shortly after if approval is given.
This is typical; we have a significant requirement for food, but a large amount of the food we harvest from the ocean is either by-catch and trashed, or fed to other, more commercially viable, fish. We harvest a hundred calories to eat ten. No bloody wonder the oceans are empty. The only farmed fish that are remotely sustainable are tilapia.
Tilapia via Wikipedia /Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
According to the New York Times:
Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia last year, four times the amount a decade ago, making this once obscure African native the most popular farmed fish in the United States. Although wild fish predominate in most species, a vast majority of the tilapia consumed in the United States is “harvested” from pens or cages in Latin America and Asia.
Known in the food business as “aquatic chicken” because it breeds easily and tastes bland, tilapia is the perfect factory fish; it happily eats pellets made largely of corn and soy and gains weight rapidly, easily converting a diet that resembles cheap chicken feed into low-cost seafood.
But, of course, the rush to monetize tilapia has led to problems as well. Fed on corn and soy, farmed tilapia contains relatively small amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which are why it is recommended we eat fish in the first place. From the same article: "For the moment, Seafood Watch lists tilapia raised in the United States as a “best choice,” tilapia from Latin America as a “good alternative” and tilapia from China as “to be avoided.”
The report from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development points out:
Development and sustainability goals should be placed
in the context of (1) current social and economic inequities
and political uncertainties about war and conflicts; (2) uncer-
tainties about the ability to sustainably produce and access
sufficient food; (3) uncertainties about the future of world
food prices; (4) changes in the economics of fossil-based en-
ergy use; (5) the emergence of new competitors for natural
resources; (6) increasing chronic diseases that are partially a
consequence of poor nutrition and poor food quality as well
as food safety; and (7) changing environmental conditions
and the growing awareness of human responsibility for the
maintenance of global ecosystem services (provisioning,
regulating, cultural and supporting).
Today there is a world of asymmetric development, un-
sustainable natural resource use, and continued rural and
urban poverty. Generally the adverse consequences of global
changes have the most significant effects on the poorest and
most vulnerable, who historically have had limited entitlements and opportunities for growth.
Canada, the US, and  Australia did not agree.

Also from Grist, an update on the California drought--in this case a lovely comparison of satellite pictures of California now and at the same time last year:

via Grist / NASA
Oh, and CNN and the John Hopkins School of Medicine report:
More than half of all adults in the United States take some sort of multivitamin; many do so in hopes of preventing heart disease and cancer or even to aid with memory.
But an editorial published in this week's Annals of Internal Medicine says that using supplements and multivitamins to prevent chronic conditions is a waste of money.
"The (vitamin and supplement) industry is based on anecdote, people saying 'I take this, and it makes me feel better,' said Dr. Edgar Miller, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-author of the editorial.
"It's perpetuated. But when you put it to the test, there's no evidence of benefit in the long term. It can't prevent mortality, stroke or heart attack."
It's all about the money, honey.

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