Posted July 23, 2010 by

A couple of years ago I took on an in the food movement. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the United States ShirleySherrodassignment to write about racial equity and social justiceDepartment of Agriculture or its history of inequity. So I started with what I knew to do: research. I typed in race and farming. It made sense to me. I needed a background, a point of reference. To my surprise there was entry after entry on discrimination against black, Native American and Hispanic farmers. The discrimination resulted in a class action suit filed by black farmers, known as the Pigford Case. I went on to interview a few black farmers to get their take on this. For more information on the Pigford Class Action Suit go here.

Fast forward to July 21, 2010. Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the USDA was asked to submit her resignation because she told her truth. Back in March she made an honest and open speech in front of the NAACP about her personal journey and evolution around race while she was working in rural Georgia at the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund. So she lost her job at USDA for an experience she had when she was employed by another organization 24 years ago.

I am sure that Ms. Sherrod never set out to be the next Rosa Parks. And I am sure that she never expected to lose her job for telling the truth. Instead, the head of the USDA reacted to a snippet of a tape of her speech. The NAACP reacted as well, throwing her under the bus for a speech that Ms. Sherrod made at one of their meetings months before. One that she says she has made several times to illustrate her change of heart.

I am sure it couldn’t have been easy for her to work with farmers in rural Georgia. I bet she has some stories about being called names and threatened by the white farmers she tried to help over the years. Whatever she saw, and felt, she clearly was able to move past it. It is a lesson that we all need to hear. And we could have heard it, if the tape hadn’t been edited.

The rest of the tape addresses lots of things including Sherrod’s story of the death of her father in a racist act. She talks about having crosses burned on her family’s lawn and about her commitment to stay in the South to change things. Yet, if you read the Tea Party blogs, or watched only Fox News, you would have heard only a couple of lines of her speech—out of context.

When a spokesperson for the Tea Party admitted that it was their intention to embarrass the NAACP by editing and sending this tape out virally, they set in motion a firestorm that made a whole lot of people look bad. The house may be on fire, but remember there was somebody standing there with a gas can and a match. Will we continue to let the flame throwers set the Shirley Sherrods of the world on fire for sport?

If you think that we live in a post-racial society, now that we have the first African American president, then think again. My heart broke a little when I heard Ms. Sherrod say “I can’t believe I am out of a job.” Shirley, I can’t either. I am not surprised that extreme conservatives work tirelessly to stir up the tensions of race. But I am horrified that the NAACP and the USDA were so reactionary. Right now I am sure that Tea Party members all over the country are having a great laugh at the expense of a woman in her 60s who told a story about how she has come to view race and poverty.

As a child of the 60s, I have seen hate around race. I have seen how far we’ve come. But I see how much healing we need to do. As of this writing, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has apologized to Ms. Sherrod and offered her a job. Not her job, but a job. The NAACP also apologized. But when will we stop being a PR machine, reacting to save funding and chase a few public opinion points? I am sure that the USDA acted to curb any embarrassment to the administration. How’d that work out USDA? Are you willing to shake the trees and go back to and chase out the hundred or so years of discrimination against black, Native American, Asian and Hispanic farmers?

I also want to thank CNN for doing real journalism. They teach us a lesson. Blogs and tweets are just sources—not the story. Real journalists roll up their sleeves and vet stories. They look at real tapes. They give balanced coverage. In fairness to other media outlets, it is true that there is a rush to get the story out there as quickly as you can in the 24-hour news cycle. We feed the beast as fast as we can. Maybe we need to slow down and ask some questions, especially when we call for someone to get fired.

The media has a lot of work to do. And so do we: the food advocates, the innovative thinkers, the food and public health policymakers, and the pundits. Race is an uncomfortable conversation. But I am now convinced that we need to have more conversations, even in the food world. When the food advocates talk about where our food comes from and where it goes, we need to talk about disparities and equity. We need to address our humanity and our diverse American culture. We need to find our own courage to let this moment be the catalyst for change. It’s easy to get angry about injustice. But it is difficult to be a part of the change. Let’s take a deep breath and move forward in truth, honesty and equity in food. Thank you Shirley Sherrod for the lesson.

This blog post was written by IATP Food and Society Fellow Andrea King Collier.

Posted July 21, 2010 by

AgricultureFood securityMarket speculation

It was late 2008 when IATP first sounded the alarm on the role of Wall Street speculators in driving agriculture prices up and down like a yoyo—hurting both farmers and consumers alike—and contributing to growing hunger around the world. A few hours ago, President Obama signed into law a Wall Street reform bill that closes many of the regulatory loopholes that allowed big financial players to wreak havoc on agriculture commodity futures markets. Wall Street lobbyists armed with hundreds of thousands of dollars and a legion of former Congressmen did everything they could to defeat this bill. Amazingly, they didn't. In the press release we issued today (pasted below), we explain why this bill is an important win for farmers, consumers and rural communities.  

Wall Street reform bill signed today will limit excessive speculation in agriculture

New rules to curb Wall Street’s influence over food and farming

Minneapolis – TThe Wall Street reform bill signed today by President Obama will severely restrict excessive speculation on agriculture commodity futures markets that has harmed U.S. farmers and countries battling hunger, according to the Institute

for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

“This landmark bill is a first step toward preventing the excessive speculation by big Wall Street banks that has created enormous price volatility in agriculture and energy markets,” said IATP commodities expert Steve Suppan. “This is an important win for farmers and rural communities whose economic futures are so tightly linked to agriculture and energy.”

The bill requires the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to set per-commodity limits across all markets on the number of derivatives contracts that can be controlled by any one entity and its affiliates during a trading contract period. Previously, Wall Street firms and others took advantage of the “Enron loophole” and other regulatory exemptions to purchase and then sell off derivative contracts for agriculture and energy without limits, driving prices up and down.

Just as importantly, the bill requires that most derivatives presently traded “over the counter,” i.e., in private deals not subject to CFTC rules and reporting requirements,

be traded on public and regulated exchanges. The legislation also strengthens enforcement standards and prosecutorial resources for initiating fraud and market manipulation investigations.

“This bill will help markets work for agriculture and all Americans, not just for Wall Street and the transnational corporations that hide their deals in private markets,” said Suppan. “With a return to a more transparent price setting process on public and regulated exchanges, farmers and ranchers again will be able to sell their products in advance to generate the cash flows they require for planting, livestock purchases and other farm management expenses.”

Greater transparency and tougher position limits in the U.S. will also benefit many developing countries. Countries dependent on agriculture

imports for food security will be able to forward contract at fairer and more predictable prices. Developing countries that rely on agricultural exports will similarly benefit from greater price predictability and stability as they forward contract sales.

The bill also requires a study of proposed mandatory trading of carbon emissions credits under CFTC authority to induce investments to meet greenhouse gas emission targets. The study will estimate the price volatility and trading volume effects of carbon trading under proposed climate change legislation. Last year, IATP reported on the risks of excessive speculation on proposed carbon markets.

“The next critical phase of Wall Street reform comes in the regulatory implementation of this bill,” said Suppan. “Wall Street lobbyists and industry associations fought hard to maintain their insider privileges. This opposition will be at least as vigorous in the rule-making process.”

IATP will continue to work alongside the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition, Americans for Financial Reform and other allies to ensure effective implementation and enforcement. The implementation process with regards to agriculture will begin at an Agricultural Markets Advisory Committee meeting at the CFTC on August 5.

In 2008, IATP first reported on the role of big financial firms in contributing to steep food price increases. This dramatic price volatilitynot only affected U.S. agriculture, but ultimately contributed to increased hunger in many of the two-thirds of developing countries that are food-import dependent and that rely on U.S. markets for predictable purchase prices.

Posted July 19, 2010 by

Climate

In February of this year, the Chinese government released results of the first national pollution census (全国污染源普查). The most startling finding of this nearly three-year, 737 million RMB investigation was that agriculture is a bigger source of water pollution in China than industry. Because agriculture had never before been included in official pollution measures, the finding that farming is responsible for 44 percent of chemical oxygen demand (COD—the main measure of organic compounds in water), 67 percent of phosphorus discharges and 57 percent of nitrogen discharges was big news. The New York Times and The Guardian published articles on the Chinese pollution census.

In addition to fertilizer-, pesticide- and herbicide-containing runoff from crop fields, the census found that manure from livestock and poultry farms is a major source of agricultural pollution. An article this week in the China Daily further details animal waste problems, citing incidents of blue-green algae outbreaks in lakes and waterways because of excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen fromIMG_5521

livestock farms. The photo to the right is an example of this phenomenon near a commercial pig farm I visited in Sichuan Province. Given the lack of effective water treatment methods and facilities, combined with the ever-increasing scale of livestock production, this is indeed a serious problem for China to address.

In response to the census, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is promoting biogas digesters as a possible solution to the current “manure problem.” The ministry is currently executing and administering a $66.08 million (USD) loan from the Asian Development Bank to expand the use of biogas technologies. By 2020, plans are to construct an additional 80 million household methane digesters and 10,000 large-scale biogas plants. These projects build on technologies that have been used in China for decades. (Here is a report by Professor Li Kangmin and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho that gives a brief history of biogas use in China, dating from the late nineteenth century.)

The concern is scale. According to a water expert at the Asian Development Bank, presently less than 1 percent of the 4.2 million large-scale pig, cattle and poultry farms use biogas digesters to process manure. As these commercial farms follow the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) model by packing more and more animals into smaller and smaller spaces and continue to take an increasing share of production and markets, surely they are the operations to watch—and to regulate. But to date, biogas digester projects have focused on small-scale production. The MOA estimates that 35 million of the 140 million rural households were using digesters at the end of 2008. While digesters can bring certain benefits to rural communities, particularly production of cooking gas and nutrient-rich fertilizer, these small-scale farms are not the ones contributing most to the manure-in-water problem.

The real challenge for addressing manure-based water pollution comes from the rivers of waste running out of commercial livestock farms and directly into bodies of water. If biogas digesters are to be the chosen path to correct this ill, perhaps there should be a mandate that all new CAFOs (and there are new ones coming into production all the time) must install digesters from the beginning. At the same time, the existing 99 percent of commercial farms that don’t already use them should be urged to do so.

Mindi Schneider is blogging from China. She is a native Midwesterner currently living in China and working on her PhD in Development Sociology at Cornell.

Posted July 13, 2010 by

Property rights are a hot and complicated issue in China today, with both the left and right calling for (very different kinds of) reform. As property developers rush to build the “New China,” they push farmers and residents off of their land, with little regard for compensation—and by using all the political connections and brute force they can muster.

Forced relocation of this kind is fully legal under current Chinese law. Farmers don’t own land outright, but rather lease it from local governments for terms of up to 30 years. These agreements are considered binding, until a property developer (state-owned, private or mixed) sets its sights on a particular tract of land, and the families with the land-use rights are relocated. Compensation is generally a pittance, and developers and officials rely on intimidation to move people out of their way.

Recently, Chinese media has increasingly reported on instances of people protesting forced relocation and low compensation by taking rather drastic measures. S-CHINESE-FARMER-II-largeThis week, the China Daily (English version) ran a story about Yang Yongde, a farmer from outside the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. Mr. Yang successfully negotiated a compensation package of 761,00 RMB ($111,000 USD) for his 25 mu (1.75 hectare) of land, including houses and a fishpond. He only reached this agreement, however, after building a watchtower above his home and launching homemade rockets from a bamboo bazooka at developers as they approached his land. This fight went on for about five months, and near the end, his brother was attacked and severely injured while guarding Mr. Yang’s land while he was off filing a petition.

I first saw this story on an English language blog called China Hush in June. The author of the post summarized news reports from the Chinese press about Mr. Yang’s struggles, which are linked here and here. Apparently, this media attention helped Mr. Yang get the settlement he wanted. The developers and officials involved succumbed to his demands soon after reports of his standoff were made public.

Mr. Yang’s story, along with those of many others who have fought to keep their homes or to be fairly compensated for their losses, are probably most unique in the sense that they have been reported. Forced evictions and relocations are commonplace in China today, but most of them go unreported. So while Mr. Yang came out with a nice settlement, it is important to focus on the broader policy and legal changes that are needed to protect others in similar situations. Wang Xixin, a law professor at Peking University, is quoted is the China Daily article: “Yang's success was only accidental and may not be repeated. Offering property owners more channels and rights to appeal is the correct way to resolve the problem.”

I would also say that continuing to report on these incidents is another move in the right direction, so long as those that get reported don't serve to mask or silence those that remain ignored. In the past few days, The Guardian, the BBC, the Telegraph, the Huffington Post, and several local papers and blogs have picked up the story of the “rocket farmer” from the Chinese press. Forced relocations, and protests against them, will continue to be important issues to watch.

Mindi Schneider is blogging from China. She is a native Midwesterner currently living in China and working on her PhD in Development Sociology at Cornell.

Posted July 1, 2010 by

In a letter sent to Congress and the Obama administration last month, leading voices in environmental justice, science and academics asked that: “1) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) should not be overturned or diminished; and 2) climate change policy should address the emissions of greenhouse gas co-pollutants, as well as the emissions of greenhouse gases themselves.”

The same facilities and vehicles that emit greenhouse gases also emit co-pollutants that lead to high rates of asthma and other serious public health concerns. In addition to the public health impacts associated with climate change itself, co-pollutants from coal plants and other fossil fuel sources disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color as these communities are largely located where fossil fuel facilities are located and where urban vehicle emissions are concentrated. This unique partnership of leading environmental justice activists, policy analysts, scientists and academics is the first of its kind.

While Congress has rejected initial attempts to undermine the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for public health reasons, additional attempts to challenge EPA’s authority are expected. Shalini Gupta, director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP, was among the 18 leaders who signed onto the letter. To find out more, read the press release and full letter.

Posted June 30, 2010 by

Market speculation

With the passing of Senator Robert Byrd, and the retreat of several Senate Republicans, the passage of financial reform now appears to be in doubt. While most of the press coverage has focused on the bill's impact on financial services, including credit cards, mortgages, payday loans and investment bank practices, the effect of the bill on farmers and ranchers has been given less attention.

In a commentary written right before the House-Senate conference committee agreement on financial reform last week, IATP's Steve Suppan outlines how excessive financial speculation from Wall Street banks prevented the commodity futures markets from playing their traditional role in agriculture.

Steve writes, “In 2008, futures prices had become so volatile that rural banks could not assess price risks in order to make loans. Some banks were not loaning to country elevators, and some of those elevators therefore could not pay farmers to forward contract their grain and oilseed production.”

A primary target of the financial reform bill is over-the-counter (OTC) trading: trades that are conducted in private and not over regulated exchanges but that can deeply influence commodity futures markets. OTC trading by big Wall Street led commodity index funds, combined with a regulatory loophole allowing those funds to flood the market and contributing to massive price volatility in agriculture and energy prices in 2007 and 2008. As IATP reported in 2008, this volatility not only affected U.S. farmers but had repercussions—particularly for countries battling hunger.

Reforming our financial system is a work in progress. As Steve writes, we can't afford a watered down approach or to continue “creating unfair markets that damage farmers, ranchers and rural communities.”

Posted June 30, 2010 by

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is poised to make a renewed push for completion of a free trade agreement with South Korea. If the agreement moves ahead it will help President Obama make good on his pledge to double U.S. exports in the next five years, but will do so by undermining public health in what was once touted as a model of health and wealth in Asia.

Korea’s experience up to just a few years ago showed that a sovereign nation that values its health and its culture can become wealthy without growing obese. As recently as 2001, nutritionist Barry Popkin and his colleagues wrote:

“South Korea provides an example of the possible benefits of promotion of health through retention of the traditional diet. Despite the very rapid economic change and the very high per capita GNP, South Korea’s fat intake level and obesity level are approximately half of what would be expected for a country at its level of economic development. In addition, its vegetable intake is much higher.

One plausible explanation is that movements to retain the traditional diet have been strong in South Korea. These include mass media campaigns, such as television programs that promote local foods, emphasizing their higher quality and the need to support local farmers. For example, KBS first station’s daily program, Six O’clock My Village, introduces famous products of South Korean villages and promotes consumption of traditional dishes. South Korea also promotes the concept of Sin-To-Bul-Yi, translated directly as “A body and a land are not two different things,” which is interpreted to mean that a person should eat foods produced in the land where he was born and lives.

Part of this effort is reflected in a unique training program offered by the Rural Development Administration. Beginning in the 1980s, the Home Management Division of the Rural Living Science Institute trained thousands of extension workers to provide monthly training sessions in cooking methods for traditional Korean foods, such as rice, kimchi (pickled and fermented Chinese cabbage) and fermented soybean food. These sessions are open to the general public in most districts in the country and the program appears to reach a large audience.”

Traditional diets were also maintained through government trade policies that protected Korean producers and largely kept out the worst international purveyors of fast food and junk food. Just this January, the government banned junk food advertising on television during the evening hours when most schoolchildren watch.

But as Popkin wrote in his subsequent book, The World is Fat, South Korea’s accession to the WTO and other free trade agreements (FTAs) weakened the government’s ability to discourage unhealthy imports. European food and beverage industry pundits drooled when the EU signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with South Korea in 2009 that “will bring the end of almost all tariffs between the two economies” by the middle of 2010.

These agreements, signed with almost no debate and in the face of widespread public opposition, have been devastating to the country’s farmers. But although protecting rural livelihoods and food security should be reason enough to reject trade deregulation, the mass movement in Korea against the FTA with the U.S. has also been rooted in deep concerns for national culture and public health. They know that along with Happy Meals and Chicken Nuggets, they will be importing Genuine American Style chronic disease and lower life expectancies.

Posted June 28, 2010 by

An adaptation of Paul Greenberg's book, “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,” will be featured on the cover of Sunday's New York Times Magazine.  Greenberg, a 2007-2008 Food and Society Fellow, writes prolifically on global fisheries, and his latest book will be published next month by Penguin Press.

Tuna’s End

By Paul Greenberg

Tuna_NYTimesOn the morning of June 4, in the international waters south of Malta,
the Greenpeace vessels Rainbow Warrior and Arctic Sunrise deployed
eight inflatable Zodiacs and skiffs into the azure surface of the
Mediterranean. Protesters aboard donned helmets and took up DayGlo
flags and plywood shields. With the organization’s observation
helicopter hovering above, the pilots of the tiny boats hit their
throttles, hurtling the fleet forward to stop what they viewed as an
egregious environmental crime. It was a high-octane updating of a
familiar tableau, one that anyone who has followed Greenpeace’s Save
the Whales adventures of the last 35 years would have recognized. But
in the waters off Malta there was not a whale to be seen.

What was in the water that day was a congregation of Atlantic bluefin
tuna, a fish that when prepared as sushi is one of the most valuable
forms of seafood in the world. It’s also a fish that regularly journeys
between America and Europe and whose two populations, or “stocks,” have
both been catastrophically overexploited. The BP oil spill in the Gulf
of Mexico, one of only two known Atlantic bluefin spawning grounds, has
only intensified the crisis. By some estimates, there may be only 9,000
of the most ecologically vital megabreeders left in the fish’s North
American stock, enough for the entire population of New York to have a
final bite (or two) of high-grade otoro sushi.

Read more in The New York Times Magazine Preview.

This entry was written by Abigail Rogosheske and was originally posted on the IATP Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas Blog. Photo Credit: Kenji Aoki for The New York Times.

Posted June 23, 2010 by

The ability of natural systems to overcome assaults by outside forces that threaten their livelihood is nothing short of phenomenal. When I was kid growing up in Iowa in the 1950s, I recall when we sprayed DDT on the cows to control flies, except the flies soon fought back, so we had to use more. First used as an outgrowth of nerve gas from WWII, DDT was regarded as a lifesaver for control of mosquitoes carrying malaria but it soon became ineffective. Never mind that the full health and environmental risks of toxic DDT were never fully evaluated before it was in widespread use, and when it was found in milk, some people began to worry. Other pesticides, such as dieldrin and aldrin, were substituted, but mosquitoes again became resistant in 18 months or less.

Not to be deterred, humanity has continued to try to use pesticides to control pests over and over—only to find that pests continue to fight back over and over. Now more than 500 species of insects and fungus are resistant to pesticides and the list continues to climb.

Even corn rootworm, which used to be controlled by alternating corn with another crop such as soybeans, has figured out that it can exist nicely with the soybean and come back the next year, a phenomenon known as extended diapauses.

Aside from insects, resistance also operates efficiently in the plant world. Weeds are ever with us. Indeed they are called weeds because they end up where they are not wanted and cause economic damage. In 1943 Aldo Leopold wrote a classic essay called “What is a Weed.” The essay, published in River of the Mother of God (UW Press), said “To live in harmony with plants is, or should be, the ideal of good agriculture. To call every plant a weed which cannot be fed to livestock or people is, I fear, the actual practice of agricultural colleges. [...] The first false premise is that every wild species occasionally harmful to agriculture is by that reason of fact to be blacklisted for general persecution.”

I spent many hot days chopping weeds out of corn and soybean fields when I was a youth. When a miracle product called 2,4-D (an early Monsanto product) came along to use on the corn fields, I rejoiced. But lo and behold, by 1957, weeds were reported in Hawaii sugarcane fields that were resistant to 2,4-D. Weed scientists did not worry much. The slow growth pattern of weeds meant it would take many years before widespread resistance would occur. But weeds did not wait.

The triazines, especially atrazine, came into widespread use the 1960s. Predictably, weed resistance soon developed. While triazine resistance is commonplace, atrazine remains a major herbicide for corn.

But all was not lost. In the 1970s a Monsanto organic chemist named John Franz found a triamine salt, called glyphosate, that had broad spectrum toxicity toward green plants. Glyphosate was branded  as Roundup and formulations were first marketed in 1976. Over the last three decades, glyphosate has brought enormous profits to Monsanto, which had exclusive U.S. rights until 2000 when the patent expired. Roundup has been the most widely sold herbicide worldwide since 1980.

The company’s profits greatly expanded with the introduction of crops genetically engineered to be tolerant of Roundup. With the introduction of Roundup Ready (RR) crops patented by Monsanto, the company's sales not only of the chemical but also of the seed and associated patents skyrocketed.

Over 90 percent of soy, 75 percent of cotton and 70 percent of corn grown in the U.S. in 2009 contains the RR trait. This amounts to 130 million acres of corn and soy, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While Roundup has been touted as safe and environmentally friendly, much data indicates the contrary. Of particular concern are the “inert” adjuvants (chemicals added to enhance the activity of the pesticide) that often are not disclosed nor tested by EPA.

Worldwide, at least 25 countries have now adopted biotech crops (statistics are not available to sort these out by herbicide-tolerant and insecticide-tolerant crops)—amounting to a total of over 300 million acres.

But as predicted by weed and ecological scientists for a couple of decades, resistance to Roundup is developing, and the number of new species resistant to Roundup has increased markedly in the last few years. Many of the resistant weeds are economically important and difficult to control. Some, such as waterhemp, have been observed to have developed resistance (PDF) to at least three different classes of herbicides.

Over 19 genotypes are Roundup resistant worldwide. And with the increasing potential for large acreages of Roundup-ready alfalfa and sugarbeet crops, more difficult to control weeds will likely emerge. Importantly for all herbicides evaluated by 2009, the Weed Science Society lists 346 Resistant Biotypes, 194 Species (114 dicots and 80 monocots) and over 340,000 fields worldwide that have developed resistance. This covers virtually all herbicides that have been used commercially since the chemical era began.

Growing resistance to herbicides means farmers have to use more to achieve the same effect. The amount of herbicide used in U.S. agriculture has increased dramatically—up 46 percent in the last 13 years for corn, cotton and soybean production. Much of this increase is attributed to Roundup resistance. Remarkably, the Associated Press reported earlier this week that Monsanto was paying cotton farmers an additional $12 an acre to cover the costs of other herbicides to use alongside of Roundup. Further, the use of older, more toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D and paraquat are increasing, adding to water quality and offsite drift issues, and another gallery of resistant weeds.

Where this will lead is obvious; curtail herbicide use or face the consequences of less herbicide effectiveness with more economic, human health and ecological consequences. I would bet that if they could, Aldo Leopold and Charles Darwin would have a good laugh at this conundrum.

Chemical-based weed control may be hitting a brick wall—or at least a wall that is getting more difficult to traverse. No major new pesticides are being developed for corn or soybeans. The last major advancement in chemical weed control was pigment inhibitors (chemicals that prevent plants from forming photosynthetic pigments) developed in the 1980s. We are entering a new era where farmers cannot rely on technology to bail them out.

This little horror story points out once again the fallacies of industrial agriculture, built on short-sighted corporate control of crop inputs, and supportive government policies. Weed scientists sounded the alarm on resistance years ago but many were told to cool it for fear of angering the corporate sponsors of University research and outreach funding. Of course, the discipline of weed science likes to take credit now for being right, but where were they when they should have spoken out more strongly?

When I was executive director of the Leopold Center at Iowa State University in the 1990s I banned research funding for biotech crops, and was widely criticized for this move. Other leaders such as Dr. Chuck Benbrook who previously led the National Academy of Sciences Agriculture Committee spoke out, and soon lost their jobs. The pattern is a familiar one for academia, except the stakes for the future of agriculture are becoming more and more serious. It is up to groups such as IATP to move the playing field back to biointensive pest control (the use of ecological principles to control pests, rather than relying solely on pesticides).

In a future blog, I will tackle the more evasive issue raised by genetically engineered crops containing the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene for control of moths and borers. Stay tuned.

Posted June 22, 2010 by

Climate

To be in Brazil during the World Cup of futbol (soccer) is to see both a massive outpouring of national pride and mass marketing of the very first order. Museums will change their opening hours and churches will change the times they offer mass on any day that Brazil plays. Brazil will host the World Cup 2014. The government is already planning for ways to sweep the streets of beggars and hide the shanty towns (favelas) behind walls, not so they won’t be seen but so the favelas and beggar residents cannot interfere with the tourism and commerce of the tournament.

I am here to talk with NGOs about U.S. climate change policy and more specifically the U.S. financial reform legislation that will have much to do with how carbon emissions are traded in commodity futures markets if and when they are established. Given the current diplomatic stalemate in climate change negotiations, it would be idle to suggest that countries must compete more fiercely to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than they compete to win the World Cup. Certainly the stakes of losing the GHG Games are immeasurably higher than the national disappointment or even disgust when its team is ousted but where is that commercial GHG hook that will have “Beat Climate Change!” T-shirts outselling "Go Brazil" T-shirts?

Granted, the U.S. climate change story is not a happy one or one easy sell to Brazilian groups. Unhappily I explain that our most immediate challenge is not the members of the U.S. Congress who don’t believe that climate change is happening or that it is not serious enough to warrant a massive change in U.S. technology and investment policy. Our most immediate problems are the environmental organizations who believe that carbon markets will induce investment decisions to reduce GHGs.

Earlier this month, IATP published a critique of an International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) proposal that would finance GHG reductions by selling bonds to developing countries. The bond terms would be defined and administered by a new International Green Bond Board that would displace the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. The collateral for bond repayment would be developing country carbon credits that would be sold and resold in U.S. and EU markets. When I explained that several U.S. environmental organizations worked closely with IETA the Brazilian NGOs weren’t as shocked as I had been when I listened to IETA and the big enviros sing the same tune in Copenhagen.

They said that Brazilian conservation organizations, desperate for funds to fight the destruction of the Amazon by agribusiness, forestry and mining firms, had become believers that selling carbon offset credits to U.S. and EU businesses would stop the destruction of the Amazon. Indeed, as I had read in No Rain in the Amazon, some of the former deforesters were planting fast-growing eucalyptus trees to claim carbon offset credits from a space that once had been home to an immense wealth of biodiversity and climate stabilization. U.S. environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), had sold Brazilian conservation groups on carbon markets in such market conditions.

If Wall Street and other financial centers remain fundamentally unreformed, they will create extreme price volatility in carbon markets, as surely as they did in agricultural and energy markets in 2006–2008. IETA has argued that there should be no limits on the number of carbon derivatives, based on the value of the carbon credits, that some draft U.S. legislation proposes to give away for free to the biggest polluters. Furthermore, IETA opposes any attempt to reduce unregulated trading in the over-the-counter markets.

IATP, with the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition (CMOC) and Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), is fighting to put binding limits on derivatives trading and allow OTC trading only for commodity traders, such as municipal power companies, for whom the greater cost of trading on public and regulated exchanges impedes their ability to provide energy to all consumers. As Wall Street rains campaign contributions on New Democrats to help the Republican Party defeat reform, we fear that if real reform is defeated, the next bill to be bought and paid for by industry will be climate change legislation. Then the only thing for which we will be able to cheer is the World Cup—if it isn’t disrupted by drought, flash floods and more frequent and violent weather.




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