[permaculture] Fw: BIODYNAMICS NOW! The Year in Food

fdnokes at hotmail.com fdnokes at hotmail.com
Mon Dec 28 16:17:32 EST 2009

Interesting article.


The Year in Food: The Biggest Edible News of '09 and Predictions for 2010
By Ari LeVaux, AlterNet. Posted December 27, 2009.

In the battle between Big Ag and Small Food there were notable victories 
on either side.

As 2009 closes out, the dominant issues in the world of food could be 
lumped into two competing paradigms that have framed much of the decade. 
In one corner we have Big Food: factory farms, fast food restaurants, 
mystery meat, biotechnology and other examples of when the economics of 
scale are applied to how we feed ourselves. In the other corner is Small 
Food, whose players include farmers' markets, ecology-based agriculture 
and seasonal diets of minimally processed food.

In a victory for small food, 2009 will perhaps be remembered as the year 
gardening returned to mainstream consciousness. Much credit goes to 
First Lady Michelle Obama, thanks to the organic veggie patch she 
planted on the White House lawn. The symbolic gesture created an instant 
buzz, and many other politicos around the world have followed suit. 
There are now gardens on the grounds of city halls, governors' mansions, 
and other houses of leadership around the world, providing countless 
opportunities to educate and discuss why gardens are good.

According to the National Gardening Association the number of households 
with gardens rose from 36 million in 2008 to 43 million in 2009. 
Michelle Obama's garden certainly deserves some credit, but so does the 
recession, which inspired many people to stick their hands in the dirt, 
not only to save on grocery bills, but to find economical ways to enjoy 
their leisure time.

Ironically, this proliferation of home gardeners bears some of the 
responsibility for the rapid spread of a late tomato blight fungus which 
nearly wiped out the commercial tomato crop on the East Coast. Many 
gardeners bought tomato starts from stores like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowes 
and Wal-Mart, nearly all of which were raised by the Alabama nursery 
Bonnie Plants. Plant pathologists believe the nursery sent out infected 
plants, which slipped under the radar of agricultural inspectors and 
brought the spores to all corners. Unusually heavy rainfall encouraged 
the blight to take hold, prosper and spread. The take-home message: buy 
your plant starts from local nurseries, or grow them yourself from seeds.

In addition to kitchen gardens, another beneficiary of the recession is 
a 93-year-old great-grandmother named Clara Cannucciari, whose YouTube 
videos combine salty commentary about life in the Great Depression with 
hands-on demonstrations on how to crank out simple delicacies that 
average 50 cents a serving. The videos helped win Clara a contract with 
St. Martin's Press, which published Clara's Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, 
and Recipes from the Great Depression this past October.

It's impossible to discuss the year in food without an update on the 
activities of biotech giant Monsanto, whose year can be summed up in a 
single word: "chutzpah." In April, the company sued the sovereign nation 
of Germany when its agriculture minister banned the planting of a type 
of Monsanto corn engineered to thwart the advances of the corn-borer 
moth. Monsanto was unsuccessful in forcing Germany to allow its farmers 
to plant the corn, and recent research suggests Germany's concern 
(shared by several other European countries) may have been warranted: 
French scientists published a paper suggesting adverse affects of this 
corn -- and two other types of GM corn -- on the kidneys and livers of rats.

While health and environmental concerns over GM crops are commonplace, 
in September federal judge Jeffrey White in California's Northern 
District ruled that Monsanto's sugar beets provided an economic threat 
to farmers who wished to grow organic or non-GM crops. Beet pollen is 
carried on the wind, and will pollinate chard as well as beets. In 
Oregon's Willamette Valley, where much of the nation's beet and chard 
seed is grown, the presence of Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" sugar beets 
threatens the livelihoods of farmers growing the non-GM varieties of 
these plants. It's also likely that after a few years of Roundup Ready 
sugar beet cultivation in the Willamette Valley it would be difficult to 
get non-GM beets or chard anywhere in the nation. According to judge 
White, Monsanto's sugar beets posed "...the potential elimination of a 
farmer's choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, and the 
consumer's right to eat non-genetically engineered food." The ruling, 
against the USDA, forced the agency to complete an EIS examining the 
potential impacts of the GM beets on organic seed growers and consumers 
before the Roundup Ready beets can again be planted.

Meanwhile, Monsanto's marketing practices have placed it on a collision 
course with the U.S. Department of Justice, which this month indicated 
it's considering anti-trust litigation. Monsanto's string of 
acquisitions have squelched almost any possibility of competition, while 
its seed prices have risen by an average of 42 percent. When the DOJ 
dispatched some of its lawyers to meet with Monsanto to discuss these 
developments, the company engaged the services of Jerry Crawford, an 
Iowa lawyer who is a friend and financial supporter of USDA chief Tom 
Vilsack. It's further indication that keeping Monsanto in line is about 
as easy as wrestling an anaconda.

Monsanto owns the rights to genetic sequences found in more than 85 
percent of corn planted in the United States, and 92 percent of soy. 
Given the prevalence of corn and soy in the American diet, it's hard to 
take a bite of any packaged food without eating Monsanto's handiwork. 
What's scary is how little research has actually been done in the area 
of food safety, and that nearly all such research has been conducted by 
the company itself.

While touting its products as safe for humans and the environment, 
Monsanto's main sales pitch is based on the claim that genetically 
engineered seeds will increase crop yields and facilitate pest control. 
But last summer, a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded 
that genetically engineered seeds actually don't increase productivity. 
Another study, by the Organic Center, found that since the introduction 
of "Round-Up tolerant" corn, soy and cotton, farmers have sprayed 382.6 
million more pounds of herbicides than they otherwise would have. This 
is partly due to the proliferation of Round-Up resistant weeds: between 
2007 and 2008, farmers increased the use of different herbicides by 31 
percent in an effort to combat these superweeds. Nonetheless, the 
company's Web site promotes the seeds as a key component in "sustainable 

While Monsanto has co-opted the term "sustainable agriculture," retail 
giant Wal-Mart, already the world's largest vendor of organic food, is 
poised to capitalize on the popularity of locally grown food. Wal-Mart 
is looking at ways individual stores can carry foods grown by local 
farmers. Another large grocer, Safeway, has this year begun aggressively 
pushing a "locally grown" marketing campaign, while blatantly taking 
advantage of the ambiguity in the term "local." A writer by the name of 
Food Dude, on the Portland, Oregon blog Portland Food and Drink, busted 
Safeway with photographs of produce bearing out-of-state stickers next 
to signs announcing "I'm Local!" and "Locally Grown."

That large corporations are jumping on the sustainable, local and 
organic bandwagons is arguably a good sign. It shows that these words, 
and what they represent, have infiltrated the mainstream consciousness. 
One of the most powerful vehicles to deliver this message was Food Inc, 
the movie whose depressing yet important message about the American diet 
was seen by enough people to make it the highest grossing documentary of 

The year closed with the anti-climactic climate summit in Copenhagen, 
where U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack acknowledged the huge role that 
livestock plays in global warming -- more than transportation activities 
by most estimates. Vilsack announced plans to build methane capture 
facilities at large dairy farms in order to turn that potent greenhouse 
gas into an energy source. He deserves credit for helping to keep 
agriculture at the forefront of climate change discussions.

On the other hand, searching for ways to enable the cattle industry, 
while politically expedient in the short-term, are shortsighted in the 
long-term. Which brings us to my prediction for next year's (or next 
decade's) hot topic: serious soul-searching on the pros and cons of all 
things bovine. From the atrocities of feedlots and slaughterhouses to 
the environmental destruction wrought by cattle, given the skyrocketing 
worldwide demand for meat, the human addiction to cow products is 
reaching a breaking point.

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