Currently browsing posts about: Agriculture

Sep 23 2011

Weekend reading: food politics reports

The U.S. Public Interest Group (USPIRG) has a new report out on the effects of farm subsidies on obesity: Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food.  If you want people to eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk food, fixing the subsidy patterns might be a good place to begin.

New England Complex Systems Institute (whatever that might be) has an interesting explanation of the recent rise in world food prices: The Food Crises: A Quantitative Model of Food Prices Including Speculators and Ethanol Conversion.
The authors’ explanation: commodity speculation and growing corn for ethanol fully account for the rise in prices.  The remedy seems obvious, no?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just funded a report on the soft drink industry from the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), a project of Public Health Law & Policy (PHLP): Breaking Down the Chain: A Guide to the Soft Drink Industry.  This is about the industry itself, but also what it is doing to market its products here, there, and everywhere.  This is required reading for anyone interested in public health measures to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.

Sep 20 2011

The farm bill course at NYU

I’m teaching a graduate course on the farm bill at New York University this semester.   The class has about 45 students from diverse fields—food studies, nutrition, public health, public policy, environmental studies, law—all closely related to the subjects under discussion.

Discussions, to say the least, have been lively.

Photo by Hemi Weingarten, 9-19-11

I’ve had many requests for the course syllabus, which describes the goals and content, readings, assignments, and resources.  It is posted along with the syllabi from other courses I’ve taught recently on my NYU faculty website.   These are freely available for downloading.

Most of the readings are available online and you can find them easily if you search for them by title.

Download, share, use, and enjoy!

Sep 17 2011

Public relations in action: the food dialogues

Like many food advocates I know, I’ve been invited to participate in a “food dialogue” (I couldn’t because of previous commitments):

Americans have a lot of questions about how our food is raised. What is the impact on our health and the health of the planet? It seems there are more questions than answers. Join us on September 22 for The Food Dialogues — a new effort to bring together different viewpoints on agriculture.

We are inviting leaders in food, cooking, media and policy, farmers of all types and business leaders to be part of the discussion. Four panels in key locations around the country will discuss Americans’ biggest questions about farming and ranching from the cost of food to the environmental impact. Join us live or virtually.

The invitation comes from the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA).  This is

a newly formed alliance currently representing more than 50 of the top farmer- and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners. We are committed to working together to continuously improve how we raise food that provides healthy choices for people everywhere. We are an industry that has always looked at how to do things better, including how we listen to and answer Americans’ questions.

What is this all about?

I am grateful to Nancy Huehnergarth of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance for her explanation, “Let the Big Ag reframing begin.”  She points out that this is a professional marketing campaign Zocaló Group (Ketchum Public Relations) and that

any alliance that starts out with a $30 million budget means business and will be a force to be reckoned with. The USFRA’s goal, obviously, is to begin to reframe the debate about food production and agriculture in this country — a debate that up until now has been dominated by food and agricultural reformers.

Pay close attention to what this group says to divert attention from what Nancy summarizes as the “deplorable conditions, unnecessary subsidies and unsafe/unhealthy practices that have, sadly, become mainstream in our food and agricultural system.”

Update September 18: Here is SourceWatch.com’s take on USFRA.

Sep 7 2011

USDA seeks method to compensate farmers for GM contamination

I am a long-time reader of Food Chemical News, a weekly newsletter covering a huge range of food issues and invaluable for someone like me who lives outside the Beltway and does not have access to the ins and outs of Washington DC politics.

An item in the August 30 issue caught my attention:  USDA secretary Tom Vilsack’s instructions to his department’s new Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21).

Get this: Vilsack told AC21 to come up with a plan for compensating organic or conventional farmers whose crops become contaminated by GM genes through pollen drift.

According to Food Chemical News, Vilsack gave a three-part charge to the panel:

  1. What types of compensation mechanisms, if any, would be appropriate?
  2. What would be necessary to implement such mechanisms?
  3. What other actions would be appropriate to bolster or facilitate coexistence among different agricultural production systems in the United States?

Vilsack urged the committee to address the questions in order and not yield to temptation to address the third question first.

“This is a very specific charge,” Vilsack stressed. He also told the AC21 not to worry if their proposed solutions would require an act of Congress or new regulations. “Don’t worry about the mechanism. We’ll figure out how to make it happen.”

Why is Vilsack doing this?

“What motivates me is an opportunity to revitalize the rural economy,” the agriculture secretary declared. “I have no favorite [type of agriculture] here. I don’t have that luxury. I just want to find consensus. I believe that people who are smart and reasonable can find a solution.”

Responding to a question from panel member, Vilsack said the AC21′s failure to come up with solutions would result in “continuation of what we have today….If we want to revitalize rural America, we can’t do it while we’re fighting each other.”

Deputy USDA secretary Kathleen Merrigan cited the recent droughts and flooding as an “overwhelming time for agriculture.”

I wonder how we are going to prevent the loss of more farmers and encourage young people to take up farming….you have to come up with scenarios where there’s lack of data.  You don’t have to figure out the politics.  That’s my job and the secretary’s.  Just answer the questions [in the charge] and let us carry the water.

Interesting, no?

Could this possibly mean that instead of Monsanto suing organic or conventional farmers whose crops get intermingled with patented GM varieties, Monsanto might now have to pay the farmers for the damage caused by the contamination?

I can’t wait to see what AC21 comes up with.

Aug 1 2011

Who says you can’t grow vegetables in New York City?

The Wall Street Journal says you can.  If a Murdoch paper says so, it must be true.  I’ve got ripe tomatoes on my terrace.  But here’s serious urban farming in the Bronx.  Is local food a fad?  I don’t think so.

Jun 15 2011

U.S. food politics in action

For an instant tutorial in U.S. food politics, take a look at this Washington Post map of where agricultural subsidies go.

Presidents have been trying to get rid of subsidies for decades, but they also want to be reelected.  Will Obama succeed where others have failed?  We shall soon see.

May 10 2011

Agronomic angst in Oakland, CA: fighting for the right to farm

You might think that turning a deserted and trash-filled empty lot into an urban farm would please city officials, but not in Oakland CA.

Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle has a sobering article on the efforts of Novella Carpenter, author of the terrific Farm City (a book I use in my classes), to make her working farm legal.

To continue running her farm, Novella needed a conditional use permit which would cost about $2,500.  She got the money by raising it through her Ghost Farm blog.

The good news is that city officials are listening.

Oakland planning officials said they are about to embark on an ambitious plan  to revamp the zoning code to incorporate the increasing presence of agriculture  in the city.

The plan is to develop rules and conditions allowing anyone to grow  vegetables and sell produce from their property without a permit. The Oakland  plan would go beyond that of other cities, including San Francisco, because it  would also set up conditions for raising farm animals without a permit….Oakland’s rules have always allowed the growing of vegetables and raising  animals for personal use on residential property. But selling, bartering or  giving away what you grow is not legal without a permit. The new rules will  establish limits on distributing food, including food byproducts like jam,  without a permit.

Animals are likely to be the most contentious issue because neighbors tend to  be more bothered by bleating, honking, clucking and crowing. Complaints about  vegetables are rare.

I”m guessing other cities will have to start dealing with these issues if they haven’t done so already, not least because so many people want backyard chickens.

I’m growing salad and blueberries on my Manhattan terrace, but not enough to sell, alas.  Maybe next year!

May 3 2011

What’s going on with human height?

Robert Fogel, winner of a Nobel Prize in economics, has a new book coming out arguing, according to an account in the New York Times,  that gains in human height constitute “the most significant development in humanity’s long history.”

Fogel and his co-authors attribute the gain in height to gains in technology:

This “technophysio evolution,” powered by advances in food production and public health, has so outpaced traditional evolution, the authors argue, that people today stand apart not just from every other species, but from all previous generations of  Homo sapiens as well.

Here’s the evidence:

 

But I’m confused by this.  I thought people were taller before the agricultural revolution of 12,000 years ago or so, and that the recent gains were due to better nutrition and sanitation measures—not to gains in technology.

I’m particularly confused because of the recent study demonstrating reductions in height among women in 54 low-income countries.  This study concludes:

Socioeconomic inequalities in height remain persistent. Height has stagnated or declined over the last decades in low- to middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, suggesting worsening nutritional and environmental circumstances during childhood.

In other words, if you want to do something about height disparities, you have to fix income disparities and provide adequate food and clean drinking water.

 

 

 

Page 4 of 11« First...23456...10...Last »