Often hailed as the Nobel Prize of food, the World Food Prize has received as much attention this week for its ties to industrial agriculture and genetically modified (GM) crops as it has for honoring those who feed the world’s poor.The prize has been a lightning rod for international criticism since June, when it announced as one of its laureates Robert Fraley, an executive at the biotech corporation Monsanto, which has been at the center of a number of controversies over GM crops.Fraley shared the honor with Syngenta scientist Mary-Bell Chilton and Plant Genetic Systems co-founder Marc Van Montagu, fellow pioneers in the development of high-yield GM crops resistant to disease, pests and harsh climates.
I’m not into the tone of this article, but thought y’all would appreciate knowing about it.
(Reuters) - U.S. environmental regulators are failing to protect honey bees and their role in pollinating important food crops, and should immediately suspend use of some toxic insecticides tied to the widespread deaths of the bees, a lawsuit filed on Thursday charges.
On Thursday four professional beekeepers and five environmental and consumer groups said they would try to get a court to order the EPA to take action. The groups filed their lawsuit against the EPA in the Northern District Court of California, demanding that the regulatory agency suspend the use of pesticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
The pesticides, which are part of a class of systemic insecticides known as neonicotinoids, are absorbed by plants and transported throughout a plant’s vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects, the groups said.
Clothianidin and thiamethoxam first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s, at the same time beekeepers started observing widespread cases of colony loses, leaving beekeepers unable to recoup their losses, they said.
"Beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that EPA needs to protect bees. The agency has refused, so we’ve been compelled to sue," said Peter Jenkins, a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety who is representing the coalition of plaintiffs.
The groups said they have obtained records that show several “legal violations” by EPA officials connected to the approvals for clothianidin and thiamethoxam products.
The case also challenges the EPA’s use of “conditional registrations,” which expedite the approval process for chemical companies seeking to bring new products to market. Since 2000, over two-thirds of pesticide products, including clothianidin and thiamethoxam, have been brought to market as conditional registrations, the groups said.
I don’t see the suit being won, but will be interesting to follow during 2013.
Development knows no bounds.
Two million tombs in Zhoukou, one of the oldest cities on the mainland, have been removed over the past few months under a new provincial government policy to make more land available for agriculture.
A spokesman from the city’s civil affairs bureau, which is in charge of the grave demolitions, said the city government had no intention of halting the campaign, even though the State Council last Friday struck out a clause from regulations that allowed for forced demolition of grave sites.
"We are still clearing graves for farmland and we will definitely continue doing that," he said. The spokesman said the State Council announcement only meant the civil affairs bureau had no right to carry out compulsory demolitions. "The courts and the police bureau will instead take responsibility for execution," he said.
The revised version of the funeral and interment control regulation removed a sentence in Article 20 that allowed for forced demolitions.
Farmers are slow to adjust to increased weather fluctuations. Adapting harvest and planting is an expensive option.
One of the biggest problems facing coffee farmers in India and elsewhere is climate change.
Fluctuations in the weather have always happened, but they come more frequently now and are often more extreme, farmers say.
Like many tropical crops, coffee needs predictable dry and wet seasons and cannot tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations.
“Climate change is hitting us hard,” said Jacob Mammen, managing director of India’s Badra Estates.
Three times in recent years, Badra has lost a third of its crop because of rains at the wrong times. Some rains come too soon, causing trees to blossom early; others come as the trees bloom or are ready to be harvested, destroying valuable blossoms or dropping ripe coffee cherries; still others ruin coffee left to dry on outdoor patios.
To protect coffee from the latter fate, nearby Balanoor Plantations spent more than $20,000 for a large cylindrical drying drum last year.
Ill-timed rains used to be rare, coming maybe once a decade. So did unusually long and hot dry spells, which now come regularly.
Solid reporting on this one.
Superweeds, Superpests: The Legacy of Pesticides
"The rapid adoption of a single weed-killer for the vast majority of crops harvested in the United States has given rise to superweeds and greater pesticide use, a new study suggests. And while crops engineered to manufacture an insect-killing toxin have reduced the use of pesticides in those fields, the emergence of newly resistant insects now threatens to reverse that trend.
Farmers spray the herbicide glyphosate, widely sold under the Monsanto brand Roundup, on fields planted with seeds that are genetically engineered to tolerate the chemical. Found in 1.37 billion acres of corn, soybeans, and cotton planted from 1996 through 2011, this “Roundup Ready” gene was supposed to reduce or eliminate the need to till fields or apply harsher chemicals, making weed control simple, flexible, cheap, and less environmentally taxing.
In fact, this system has led farmers to use a greater number of herbicides in higher volumes, according to the study, published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe.”
The argument of necessity is changing public opinion. With more people on the planet, coupled with more natural disasters crippling farmers and infrastructure, the case for GMOs is established. Also, there have been no widespread doom-day disasters despite decades of GMO uses.
If you asked this question 10 years ago, you’d have found widespread opposition. These days there’s a degree of familiarity, and there’s a sense that this stuff has been around for a while and there haven’t been disasters. There’s also a degree of ambivalence – this stuff is in the food system and we can’t do anything about it.”
David Tribe, a Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Melbourne, agreed. “People have been given time to kick the tyres, check the paintwork, and they slowly accommodate something that was once perceived as very different. That’s one thing.
“The other thing is that Kevin Rudd was overseas in 2009 talking to prime ministers in countries that were under threat from a food crisis. He realised that food security was one of the greatest moral issues that we faced. So the message started to get through to people that it was important to think about food availability. The conversation changed dramatically.”
Here’s the opinion survey(PDF).
GMOs are a controversial climate adaptation measure. But, drought resistant crops are necessary.
Agricultural biotechnology companies have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into developing plants that can withstand the effects of a prolonged dry spell. Monsanto Co., based in St. Louis, has received regulatory approval for DroughtGard, a corn variety that contains the first genetically modified trait for drought resistance.
Seed makers, such as Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. of Johnston, Iowa, and Swiss company Syngenta, are already selling drought-tolerant corn varieties, conceived through conventional breeding.
At stake: a $12-billion U.S. seed market, with corn comprising the bulk of sales. The grain is used in such things as animal feed, ethanol and food. The push is also on to develop soybean, cotton and wheat that can thrive in a world that’s getting hotter and drier.
"Drought is definitely going to be one of the biggest challenges for our growers," said Jeff Schussler, senior research manager for Pioneer, the agribusiness arm of DuPont. "We are trying to create products for farmers to be prepared for that."
Their efforts come amid concerns about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and the unforeseen consequences of this genetic tinkering. Californians in November will vote on Proposition 37, which would require foods to carry labels if they were genetically modified. The majority of corn seed sold is modified to resist pests and reap higher yields.
Opponents say the label would unnecessarily dampen further development that is intended to feed a growing global population dependent on the U.S., the largest exporter of corn and soybean.
"Trying to create drought-tolerant crops is not going to be easy to do," said Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis. “We certainly need all the tools [available] to do that, and that includes conventional breeding and adding transgenic traits. We don’t need to stigmatize these approaches.”
Great read via LATimes
Some adaptation is going to freak people out. Actually, stupid, link-baiting reporting is going to freak people out…
Cattle are being bred with genes from their African cousins who are accustomed to hot weather. New corn varieties are emerging with larger roots for gathering water in a drought. Someday, the plants may even be able to “resurrect” themselves after a long dry spell, recovering quickly when rain returns.
Across American agriculture, farmers and crop scientists have concluded that it’s too late to fight climate change. They need to adapt to it with a new generation of hardier animals and plants specially engineered to survive, and even thrive, in intense heat, with little rain.
Adapt yo food: via WaPo
"What to do about this, especially when it seems apparent that there will be no global pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions any time soon?
The conventional answer is: Trust Monsanto…”
Fantastic read: “Mosquitoes and NIMBYism" at The New Yorker.
Today’s food activists think that “sustainable farming” and “eating local” are the way to solve a host of perceived problems with our modern food supply system. But after a thorough review of the evidence, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu have concluded that these claims are mistaken.
In The Locavore’s Dilemma they explain the history, science, and economics of food supply to reveal what locavores miss or misunderstand: the real environmental impacts of agricultural production; the drudgery of subsistence farming; and the essential role large-scale, industrial producers play in making food more available, varied, affordable, and nutritionally rich than ever before in history.
They show how eliminating agriculture subsidies and opening up international trade, not reducing food miles, is the real route to sustainability; and why eating globally, not only locally, is the way to save the planet.”