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Genetically engineered honeybees: Not the dumbest idea ever, but close to it

Genetically engineered honeybees: Not the dumbest idea ever, but close to it

In the wake of widespread declines in bee populations, farmers and beekeepers are wondering who exactly is going to pollinate that third of the world’s food crops which require pollination. The declines have been attributed to pesticides, parasites and climate change.

In Europe one response has been to phase out a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The phase-out has coincided with a revival of bee populations. But pesticides are clearly not the only factor affecting bee health.

Another response has been to consider building a better bee. Enter the geneticists. Why not genetically engineer honeybees to resist those things which are undermining their health?

That seems a little like suggesting that we take carbon out of the atmosphere to address climate change without doing anything about the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere.

Moreover, the original idea behind the genetic engineering of bees is the same as that behind plants and even humans: One gene equals one trait. It turns out there are three problems with this idea. First, genes are multitaskers in honey bees (and in humans, too). That means genes can make more than one kind of protein which means that the idea that one gene always equals one trait has long since been disproved. Second, gene expression depends on a number epigeneticfactors, that is, factors that occur during the development of the organism. Third, the term “trait” has the problem that all words have. It’s ambiguous. (And, if you tell me “trait” has a very precise definition in genetics, then you will almost certainly use words to convey that definition.)

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Refusal to Release Public Documents on Expanded Use of Antibiotics As Pesticides

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Refusal to Release Public Documents on Expanded Use of Antibiotics As Pesticides

More Information Sought on CDC’s Concerns of Increased ‘Superbug’ Threat

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration today for refusing to release public documents related to its approval of expanded use of antibiotics as agricultural pesticides.

Overuse of antibiotics essential for treating human diseases poses a public health threat because it can lead to “superbugs” — bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance.

Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised serious concerns about expanding the use of antibiotics as pesticides. The records, though, are incomplete, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Drug Administration have refused to release the rest.

“The Trump administration is recklessly endangering public health by allowing these human medicines to be sprayed on crops,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA is trying to conceal conversations revealing the risks these careless actions pose to public health and wildlife.”

The Environmental Protection Agency last year approved an estimated 388,000 pounds of oxytetracycline for use on citrus crops annually in California, Florida and other states. The agency has also proposed to allow an estimated 650,000 pounds of streptomycin to be used on the same crops each year.

These antibiotics are used in agriculture not as a cure but as a repeated treatment to combat outbreaks of citrus canker and citrus greening disease.

A CDC study found that the medically important antibiotics the EPA has approved for expanded pesticide use on crops can facilitate antibiotic resistance in bacteria that pose “urgent” and “serious” threats to human health. These harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria include MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), nightmare bacteria (Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE) and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus).

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Boris Johnson, GMOs and Glyphosate: Irresponsible, Negligent and Criminal?

Boris Johnson, GMOs and Glyphosate: Irresponsible, Negligent and Criminal?  

Photograph Source: Richard Humphrey – CC BY-SA 2.0

In his first speech to parliament as British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said: “Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules and let’s develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world.”

Johnson reads from a well-rehearsed script. The ‘GM will feed the world mantra’ is pure industry spin. There is already enough food being produced to feed the global population yet around 830 million are classed as hungry. Feeding the world effectively, sustainably and equitably involves addressing the in-built injustices of the global food system.

The never-ending push to force GM on the public under the guise of saving humanity is a diversion that leaves intact the root causes of world hunger and undernutrition: neoliberal deregulation and privatisation policies, unfair WTO rules, poverty, land rights issues, World Bank/IMF geopolitical lending strategies and the transformation of food secure regions into food deficit ones, etc.

Even in regions where productivity in agriculture lags behind or concerns exist about climate change, numerous high-level reports have recommended that (non-GMO) agroecological practices should be encouraged to enhance biodiversity and deal with food and climate crises.

However, pro-Brexiteer Conservative politicians talk of the essential need for Britain and the world to adopt GM is little more than an attempt to justify a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington that will effectively incorporate the UK into the US’s regulatory food regime. The type of ‘liberation’ Johnson really means is the UK adopting unassessed GM crops and food and a gutting of food safety and environmental standards.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Small farms don’t produce most the of the worlds food – but they could produce all

Small farms don’t produce most the of the worlds food – but they could produce all

Recently, I wrote an article about how difficult it is to survive as a commercial smallholder and floated some ideas of why that is and what can be done about it. I want to follow up with two articles. This one is about the production capacity of small farms and the next one will be on labor productivity and its implications for the space of consumption for small holder farmers and its capacity to generate surplus labor for other societal purposes. 
I often see the claim that peasants/small farms/small holders/family farms produce seventy percent of all the food in the world. The 70 figure originates from a report by the ETC Groups in 2009, Who Will Feed Us? Questions for the Food and Climate Crises. The original has been revised and the current version from 2017 states that the ”ETC Group estimates about 70% of the population – 4.5–5.5 billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people – depend on the Peasant Food Web for most or all of their food”. 

While I am a small farmer myself and very sympathetic to the future of small farms in a similar way as the ETC group, I think it is important to have the facts straight. To begin with, the poorest 70% consume a lot less than 70% of the food in the world, as people in the richer countries, who mainly depend on the industrial food chain consume a lot more food per capita.  Notably, the ETC report says that 70% of the population depend on the peasant food web for most or all of their food. This is not at all the same as  that peasants produce 70% of the food as ”to depend on” doesn’t mean that all their foods come from this food web.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Towards a landscape diet and communal landscape management

Towards a landscape diet and communal landscape management

Lately I have read two articles which both claim that small scale farming is (self)exploitive and that even with direct marketing such as farmers markets, there is no profit, hardly even survival.  

What nobody told me about small farming: I can’t make a living, by Jaclyn Moyer published in Salon (it is from 2015, but someone shared it on social media and it came my way) makes the case that it is not possible to make a living from production on a small farm under any norm al circumstances. Jaclyn writes that she at first wouldn’t admit having a struggling business as no one wants to climb aboard a sinking ship. She believed “if a business was failing it was because the entrepreneur was not skilled enough, not savvy enough, not hardworking enough. If my farm didn’t turn enough profit, it was my own fault.” But after years of hard work she finally started to admit to herself and to the public how things are: 

“When a student asked if my farm was sustainable, I told her that I was certified organic, I managed my soil fertility through crop rotations and compost applications, I didn’t use synthetic pesticides, I conserved water. But no, I’d said, I didn’t think my farm was sustainable. Like all the other farms I knew, my farm relied on uncompensated labor and self-exploitation. My farm was not sustainable because I knew the years my partner and I could continue to work without a viable income were numbered.” By and large Chris Newman agrees with Jaclyn Moyer in his articel Small Family Farms Aren’t the Answer published in Medium. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Scientists work to solve phosphate shortage – the dwindling resource required to grow food

Scientists work to solve phosphate shortage – the dwindling resource required to grow food

By 2030, the world’s population is projected to be about 8.5 billion people. Global food security is a major concern for governments – zero hunger is the second most important of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

However, there is a severe conflict between sustainable food production and the use of nonrenewable resources in agricultural systems, particularly phosphate. Phosphorus is a major mineral nutrient required by crop plants for optimal growth and productivity. Phosphate is the only form of phosphorus that plants can absorb — it is often applied to crops as phosphate fertilizer. 

Phosphate is obtained through rock mining. Seventy per cent of the world’s phosphate reserves are located in North Africa. China, Russia, South Africa and the United States all have limited quantities of the mineral rock. 

Finite resources

Scientists have reported that global phosphate production would peak around 2030, at the same time the global population will reach 8.5 billion people. Several reports have also warned that the global reserve would be depleted within the next 50 to 100 years. Current agricultural practice involves the use of a high amount of phosphate fertilizer in order to achieve optimal plant yield.

A phosphate shortage will threaten global food production: phosphate fertilizers are used extensively to produce optimal plant yield. Shutterstock

This is because of the chemical properties of phosphate, which interacts with soil particlesin a way that makes it difficult for the plant to acquire, leaving a large portion of the element in the soil surface.

Because plants can only uptake small amounts of phosphate, a large majority of fertilizer ends up in unwanted places, like bodies of water, making these practices ecologically and financially unsustainable. It is only reasonable to fathom that as phosphate becomes more expensive and may eventually run out, it not only poses a food security threat, but may also pose political crisis between phosphate rich countries and importing countries.+

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Future History

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Future History

In Donald Trump’s go-back-to-where-you-didn’t-come-from America, where the fear of immigrants (as well as their grotesque mistreatment) still seems on the rise, just wait. There’s so much more to come. Climate change has barely begun to hit this planet big time and yet, while there’s much writing about the grim circumstances (including gangs, drugs, and violence) that continue to send desperate Central Americans north to the U.S. border, global warming is also a growing factor in the equation. If the weather destroys the possibility of growing your food, you’ve got to do something else or go somewhere else. In the coming decades, count on one thing: thanks to the way we’re changing our very planet, ever more people are going to be uprooted from their homes and sent wandering in desperation across this globe of ours. And if you think about it, since Donald Trump is so desperately intent on aiding and abetting the intensification of global warming via fossil-fueled projects of every sort, he should really be considered the ultimate “invader” of this country. Given what we know about the reactions of those not forced to flee to those who are — to, in fact, a planet already filled with the displaced and refugees escaping violence on a scale not seen since the end of World War II — expect things to grow worse. More heat, more upheaval, more wars, and whatever turns out to follow the “populist right” on an increasingly unnerved planet, along with potentially 250 million or more displaced people by perhaps mid-century. Given the backstory so far, it’s not likely to be pretty.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food Shortage Warnings Are Already Starting To Appear, And Now Tropical Storm Barry Is Going To Rip Through America’s Heartland

Food Shortage Warnings Are Already Starting To Appear, And Now Tropical Storm Barry Is Going To Rip Through America’s Heartland

The middle of the country has been relentlessly hammered by endless rain and unprecedented flooding for months, and now it is about to be absolutely pummeled by Tropical Storm Barry.  Needless to say, this is going to cause even more headaches for Midwestern farmers.  At this point, millions of acres of prime farmland are not going to be planted at all this year, and there are tens of millions of other acres where crops are really, really struggling.  Those farms desperately need some warm, sunny weather for a while, but instead they are about to get hit by another enormous storm.  In the end, this could potentially turn out to be the worst growing season in modern history, and it comes at a time when crops are literally failing all over the planet.  Sadly, we really struggle to feed everyone on the globe even during the best years, and so what will things look like if worldwide harvests are catastrophic during the second half of 2019?

I want to make it clear that we have not reached a full-blown crisis yet, but what we are seeing are some very early signs of trouble which could greatly escalate in the months ahead.

For example, it is being reported that we are now facing a “shortage of avocados”

shortage of avocados has sent prices soaring.

Wholesale prices of avocados are more than double what they were just a year ago.

Most of the extra cost is being passed onto consumers, with retail prices almost doubling.

That is certainly not the end of the world, because we can definitely survive without avocados.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate crisis needs radical food changes

Climate crisis needs radical food changes

The entire food system needs to change, researchers say. 

From farm to fork, agriculture fuels global heating. Can the world eat well, but stay a little cooler? That will need radical food changes.

LONDON, 3 July, 2019 – To feed 9 billion people by 2050, and keep planet Earth from overheating, will mean massive and radical food changes – and not just in the way food is grown.

To contain global temperatures to no more than 2°C above the average for most of human history will require humanity to change its diet, contain its appetite and reform the entire system of food production and distribution.

This is the verdict of the latest study of the challenge set in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations promised to limit global warming – driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and by the conversion of forest, grassland and wetlands into commercial use – to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that they looked at 160 studies and analyses of global agriculture and food systems and most closely at the world’s smallholders and markets that sustain as many as 2.5 billion people, mostly in the developing world.

Farming’s massive impact

Small farmers account for about a third of global agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, but these include also many of the people most vulnerable to the coming climate crisis, which is likely to put harvests at hazard on a global scale.

Agriculture, together with forestry and changes in land use, accounts for a quarter of all the carbon dioxide, methane and oxides of nitrogen that fuel global warming.

Just on its own, the action of growing grain, fruit and vegetables or feeding grazing animals accounts for no more than 12% of global warming, but a third of all the food that leaves the farm gate is wasted before it arrives on the supper table.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Next 8.6-Year Wave will be Inflationary

The Next 8.6-Year Wave will be Inflationary 

All the real science is warning that there is a reasonable chance that we are headed into a much colder period ahead. This will have an impact on food prices and out computer models have been warning that the next wave of the Economic Confidence Model should be an inflationary wave. Even a new study from  nature.com said: “The recent prolonged solar minimum and subsequent weak solar cycle 24 have led to suggestions that the grand solar maximum may be at an end.”

The next 8.6-year wave beginning in January should produce a collapse in confidence in governments which will result in a shift from Public to Private assets, but then on top of this, we see a shortage in agricultural markets adding to the inflationary wave coming. Then add the Monetary Crisis and Sovereign Debt Crisis cycles and we end up with some very interesting impacts during the next wave.

Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

Photograph Source: Mattes – CC BY-SA

The ontology and ecology of food

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it was grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food. “

Good Food and Real Food are the basis of health .

Bad food, industrial food, fake food is the basis of disease.

Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha” the medicine that cures all disease.

Industrial food systems have reduced food to a commodity, to “stuff” that can then be constituted in the lab. In the process both the planet’s health and our health has been nearly destroyed.

75% of the planetary destruction of soil, water, biodiversity, and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions come from industrial agriculture, which also contributes to 75% of food related chronic diseases. It contributes 50% of the GHG’s driving Climate Change. Chemical agriculture does not return organic matter and fertility to the soil. Instead it is contributing to desertification and land degradation. It also demands more water since it destroys the soil’s natural water-holding capacity. Industrial food systems have destroyed the biodiversity of the planet both through the spread of monocultures, and through the use of toxics and poisons which are killing bees, butterflies, insects, birds, leading to the sixth mass extinction.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Midwest Flooding Will Cause Shortages of THESE FOODS

Midwest Flooding Will Cause Shortages of THESE FOODS

Floods are dangerous natural disasters. People and animals can be swept away and easily drown. Floods can carry bacteria and pollutants great distances. Floods can bust through levees and tear down bridges. Floods can also lead to food shortages when they destroy farms, like the recent floods in the Midwest have. Smart preppers will take measures to beef up their food storage now.

By now, most US-based preppers have either heard about (or experienced) the massive, damaging floods in the Midwest since this past March. To make matters worse, the potential for more floods in key agricultural states looms in front of us as more rain is predicted for the rest of this spring.

So far, heavy flooding has impacted important agricultural states, including Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. From NOAA:

“Additional spring rain and melting snow will prolong and expand flooding, especially in the central and southern U.S. As this excess water flows downstream through the river basins, the flood threat will become worse and geographically more widespread.”

Let’s take a look at why this is happening, what are the real risks involved, and what steps you can take to keep you and your loved ones fed and safe during a food shortage.

What Caused the Floods

Last fall brought heavy rains which soaked the ground heading into winter. The frozen winter earth was covered in heavier than normal snowfall. As warmer temperatures arrived in early spring, the snow began to melt, but the ground remained frozen underneath.

This would have resulted in minor flooding, except that heavy rains followed. According to The New York Times,

“The flat, frozen land, unable to soak in much of the water, spread it fast and furious, the way liquid would spread across a tiled floor. And the runoff quickly filled many rivers and streams to overflowing.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

U.S. Farms Are Facing Their Worst Crisis In A Generation – And Now Here Comes Another Monster Storm

U.S. Farms Are Facing Their Worst Crisis In A Generation – And Now Here Comes Another Monster Storm

The combination of the wettest planting season in U.S. history, a catastrophic trade war with China and economic conditions that are brutal for small farms has produced a “perfect storm” for U.S. farmers.  Farm bankruptcies have already risen to the highest level in 7 years, but many expect that they will soon surge to all-time record highs.  Due to the incredibly wet weather, millions upon millions of acres of prime U.S. farmland will not be planted with crops at all this year.  And millions of acres that do get planted will yield a lot less than usual because of the wretched conditions.  Meanwhile, the U.S. will export far less corn and soybeans than usual this year due to our trade conflicts with China and Mexico.  With much less international demand, U.S. farmers are going to have an increasingly difficult time trying to make a profit on anything they are able to grow.  In the end, thousands of farmers will not be able to recover from this crisis and will be forced out of the industry for good.

According to USA Today, “a near biblical parade of misfortune” has created “the worst farm crisis since the 1980s”…

American farmers already plagued by a near biblical parade of misfortune that includes years of low prices and a trade war with China are now grappling with record Midwest rain that will likely prevent a large portion of this year’s crop from even getting planted.

The troubles have created the worst farm crisis since the 1980s, when oversupplies and a U.S. grain embargo against the Soviet Union forced thousands of farmers into bankruptcy, experts say.

So we can definitely say that this is the worst farm crisis in a generation, but the truth is that this crisis is far from over.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Do We Face a Global Food Disaster?

Do We Face a Global Food Disaster?

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No, this is not at all an endorsement of the apocalyptic scenarios of AOC or that famous young Swedish climate expert, Greta. It is, however, a look at unusual weather disasters in several key growing regions from the USA to Australia, the Philippines and beyond that could dramatically affect food availability and prices in the coming year. That in turn could have major political implications depending on how the rest of the growing season develops.

USA Midwest Waterlogged

According to the latest May 20 report of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the US Department of Agriculture, corn and soybean crops are well behind the planting growth levels normal this time of the planting season. They report that only 49% of all planned corn acreage in the US has been planted compared with 78% at this time a year ago. Of that only 19% has yet emerged from the ground compared to 47% in May 2018. In terms of soybeans, barely 19% of crops have yet been planted compared with 53% a year before. Rice acreage planted is down to 73% compared to 92% a year ago in the six US rice-growing states. Of course, should weather dramatically improve the final harvest numbers could improve. It is simply too early to predict.

The USA is by a wide margin the world largest soybean producer with 34 percent of the world’s soybean production and 42% of world exports prior to the China trade battles. The US is also the world largest corn or maize producer, almost double China, the number two. A serious harvest failure in these two crops could significantly affect world food prices, leaving aside the unfortunate fact that almost all US soybeans and corn are GMO crops. They are mainly used in animal feed. 

Due To Cataclysmic Flooding, Millions Upon Millions Of Acres Of U.S. Farmland Will Not Be Planted With Crops This Year

Due To Cataclysmic Flooding, Millions Upon Millions Of Acres Of U.S. Farmland Will Not Be Planted With Crops This Year

It looks like 2019 could be the worst year for U.S. agriculture in modern American history by a very wide margin.  As you will see below, millions upon millions of acres of U.S. farmland will go unused this year due to cataclysmic flooding.  And many of the farmers that did manage to plant crops are reporting extremely disappointing results.  The 12 month period that concluded at the end of April was the wettest 12 month period in U.S. history, and more storms just kept on coming throughout the month of May.  And now forecasters are warning of another series of storms this week, and following that it looks like a tropical storm will pummel the region.  As Bloomberg has pointed out, we have truly never seen a year like this ever before…

There has never been a spring planting season like this one. Rivers topped their banks. Levees were breached. Fields filled with water and mud. And it kept raining.

Many farmers just kept waiting for the flooding and the rain to end so that they could plant their crops, but that didn’t happen.

At this point it is too late for many farmers to plant crops at all, and it is now being projected that 6 million acres of farmland that is usually used for corn will go completely unsown this year

There has never been weather like this, either. The 12 months that ended with April were the wettest ever for the contiguous U.S. That spurred other firsts: Corn plantings are further behind schedule for this time of year than they have been in records dating to 1980 and analysts are predicting an unheard-of 6 million acres intended for the grain may simply go unsown this year.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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