July 25th, 2006
The latest issue of the magazine Multinational Monitor, is focused on avian influenza. Finally, some bird flu hype that makes sense! In this issue, you wont find H5N1-infected humans turning into zombies as some major television networks might have you believe. Instead, youll find a comprehensive investigation of the role of factory farms in the emergence and spread of this devastating disease.
One of the important articles included in this issue is entitled ‚Migratory Birds as Scapegoats: the Role of Wild Birds.” In this article, Dr. Leon Bennun makes the case that outbreaks of the bird flu correspond more with the routes of poultry product movement than migratory birds. He also discusses how wild birds have been successfully dealing with this virus for decades and it is the industrialized poultry operations turning the bird flu into a super-strength killer that is putting wild birds in danger.
Another interesting article, ‚Plague and Profit: Business, Bureaucracy and Cover-Up in the Spread of Avian Flu in Asia” by Mike Davis, takes on Charoen Pokphand (CP), one of the largest poultry operations in Asia. Inspired by the success of large industrial farming in the U.S., CP led the way to the ‚Livestock Revolution” and emergence of Agribusiness in Asia. Davis discusses how the corporate dominance of CP in the poultry market might be the leading cause of the emergence and spread of H5N1.
These articles along with the rest of the March/April issue of the Multinational Monitor should help shed light on this controversial issue. Im also hoping it will help debunk the belief that a bird flu outbreak will be the end of civilization as we know it; it may only be the end of wild birds and ‚backyard” poultry farms as we know it.
July 21st, 2006
In the next several years, the Mediterranean may see the complete demise of its legendary bluefin tuna. Mediterranean bluefin catch has plummeted so drastically in recently years that local fishermen say they are now simply impossible to find; meanwhile business on new tuna “fattening” farms, which pollute the surrounding habitat with wastes, excess nutrients and antibiotics, is booming.
The Japanese sushi market, with its insatiable hunger for fatty tuna, has put a large bounty on the heads of the bluefin (think: the price of an extremely high-end sports car). As a result, tuna farms are popping up all along the coast of the Mediterranean where the struggling species is fattened up, harvested and shipped to the four corners of the earth.
As with all factory farms, these tuna ranches emit tons of pollutants and put a tremendous strain on other fish species used to fatten the prized tuna. The combination of overfishing, pollution and insufficient food is a recipe for ecosystem destruction and the even more rapid demise of the bluefin.
And with legislation permitting offshore fish farms in U.S. Federal waters now before Congress, this seemingly distant reality may not be quite so far off.
July 19th, 2006
Since 2003, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative has been connecting consumers to local producers, doing good for both business and the environment. Now the opening of the Nebraska Food Cooperative gives hope that the local foods movement can continue to grow through this exciting model! These cooperatives are an inexpensive, mutually beneficial way for farmers and consumers to come together.
Both Food Cooperatives sell the products of individual farmers, acting as a middleman that works at-cost. Through this program, producers are able to sell independently to consumers, who in turn can choose from a wide variety of local products. It’s a win-win-win situation! (The first two ‘wins’ are for the farmer and the consumer, and the third ‘win’ is for the environment because of the reduced mileage the food travels.)
And the Oklahoma Food Cooperative has the added benefit of providing priceless stories to the public. Bob Waldrop, head of the Coop, writes in his blog‚ Redbird Ranch‚ free-ranging chickens have not been available via the regular delivery system of the cooperative since our “Felonious Chicken Caper” with the Department of Agriculture.” Intrigued? So were we. Turns out, the ranch got in trouble for distributing on-farm processed poultry through the OFC, which the state considered a third party, and thus prohibits for food safety reasons. Underlying the struggle is the difficulty small farmers face to find a place to process their products, further squeezing them out of the business. You can stem the tide by joining one of these co-ops (if you’re in-state) or a CSA through the Eat Well Guide.
July 18th, 2006
Food politics are complicated. Author Michael Pollan and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey have opened up a whole new chapter of food dialogue through a series of web-posted letters. The two have been discussing the future of organics, sustainable agriculture, and what America is eating, and thankfully, they have been sharing their thoughts with the world.
Whole Foods Market is one of the world’s largest retailers of natural and organic foods. Pollan is an esteemed journalist and author who has been a long-time proponent of sustainable agriculture. In Pollan’s most recent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he is quite critical of Whole Foods Market for failing to use its position as an industry leader to support small and/or local farmers. Of particular offense to Whole Foods, Pollan writes of its asparagus “My jet-setting Argentine asparagus tasted like damp cardboard. After the first spear or two no one touched it.” Whole Foods Market contends that they have been at the forefront of the growing organic market in the United States, and support small farmers when they can do so feasibly.
How can the organic market grow, efficiently and conveniently, without selling out its founding principles? This is one of the major discussions in the food world today. No matter who you agree with, the dialogue opens up important questions about how we are eating and why. The entire exchange is available here on Whole Foods website.
July 17th, 2006
Australian Andrew Larkey believes that ‚dogs get bored with plain water [and] they deserve variety just as much as people.” And so he developed Aqua Dog water, a bottled water for dogs flavored with chicken, beef or bacon and containing many vitamins and nutrients to keep the dogs healthy. Even at $2.20 per bottle, Aqua Dog water was an instant hit, initially selling over 1,000 600mL bottles in Australia per week; in the three years since the product’s inception, sales have risen dramatically and the market has expanded beyond Australia to include the U.S., Singapore and Taiwan, Province of China.
As if waste from bottled water from humans wasn’t enough, now we’re expanding the market to include dogs? The product is incredibly expensive, costing more than any bottled mineral water designed for human consumption, and it raises all the same questions as bottled water for humans. Not only does the waste from these additional plastic bottles hurt the environment, they divert clean drinking water from people who need water to survive. With over 1.2 billion people worldwide living without access to clean drinking water, is this how efforts to expand distribution are best spent? Can we really afford to turn any of this clean water into a beef-flavored doggie power drink?
July 14th, 2006
Do you know where the food you ate for lunch came from? You may know where you purchased the bread for your sandwich, but did you ever wonder where the wheat came from, the lettuce or the tuna?
The truth is, that even when we can determine the origin of the food we consume, it is often cultivated hundreds or thousands of miles away and shipped by truck, boat, even plane to a supermarket in our town.
Recognizing the changing face of our food systems, on March 21, 2005 a Vancouver couple pledged to purchase and consume food from within 100 miles of their home, exclusively. For an entire year!
But the Canadians are not alone. Folks all over the country have begun to prioritize local, seasonal foods over their industrial alternatives. Even in the heart of DC, one can consume entirely local foods, as we will see in a couple weeks, when a group of local foodies open their home for a benefit dinner featuring a menu of entirely local food and drink to benefit of two local youth gardening programs.
Stay tuned for more details on this event as well as the challenges of planning your own local food celebration.
July 12th, 2006
There‚ nothing like a summer BBQ on a hot July night; the time spent with your family and friends, playing catch in the backyard, the horrendous smell of hog waste. Sound fun? We dont think so, and neither do 75 Mendon, Illinois area residents who requested the hearing. The Adam‚ County Board voted 14-3 yesterday to approve a request to build a new hog operation near Mendon, Illinois.
At a public hearing held on June 26, the County Board met to discuss a proposed hog confinement. The confinement would be located on a 155-acre tract of land owned by Ryan Rabe who already runs a smaller hog operation on his property. Rabe said the new operation would have special precautions to minimize odor and contain waste. When it comes to pigs though, some people would rather not take a chance. Monica Maynard, a local resident, said, ‚Our concern is our health.”
Several university studies back her up in their findings that living close to a hog confinement can lead to respiratory illnesses and other health problems. And of course there‚ the smell. John Heidbreder of the County Board said, “I can’t, in good conscience, vote for an increased smell for the neighbors. I’ve got to vote no.” Unfortunately, 14 other board members disagreed. The next vote for or against ‚increased smell” is now in the Illinois Department of Agriculture‚ nostrilser, hands.
This week, five residents of Phiri (a section of the famed Soweto township in Johannesburg) asked the Johannesburg High Court to declare the use of prepaid water meters unconstitutional. South African‚ Constitution guarantees the right to water. The use of prepaid water meters in poor communities violates this right by denying water to those who are not able to pay up front.
In Phiri, residents are often with no means to access water for weeks at a time. In South Africa, each household is supposed to receive a basic provision of 6,000 liters per household per month. But in many cases, the poorest households do not get even this basic provision. And 6,000 liters per household per month is far from enough for large households, mainly those who are poor. Peter Gleick, a U.S. based water expert, argued for the residents that the basic provision is insufficient.
The use of prepaid water meters is a severe setback for the country that seeks the progressive realization of socio-economic rights. A previous case led to a ruling by a higher court that local government must prioritize fulfilling these rights for those in most need. More background is available here.
July 7th, 2006
Beginning in August, the federal government will pay a Texas law school $1 million dollars to research recent state laws targeted at rolling back the amount of information available to the press and public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The research will be used to produce a national “model statute” that state legislatures and Congress could adopt to ensure that information stays out of the hands of “bad guys.” (Will ‚bad guys” include politically troublesome reporters? Just asking.)
The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law forty years ago on July 4th, and has long caused tension between the government and the news media. The Act allows citizens and reporters to access government meetings and records through a freedom-of-information request. If Congress or a state legislature adopted a measure that limited access, citizens would be prevented from accessing data currently available to them. Food & Water Watch has frequently relied upon FOIA to obtain information, such as that used in our current expose on contaminated chicken and our investigation of violations of mad cow disease rules.
In USA Today, Paul McMasters of the First Amendment Center notes that limiting access to information “can be a great instrument of control… To automatically believe that the less known the better is really not rational.” In the last four years, 41 of the 50 states, as well as the District of Colombia and Congress have closed some meetings and restricted some records from the public, fearing that they were available to terrorists.
If you were having a hard time imagining what exactly a giant undersea fish farm might look like, well, check out this photograph.
This net pen is one of the latest developments out of the NOAA-funded University of New Hampshire Aquaculture Project and is destined for the Gulf of Maine where it will be submerged 40 feet below the oceans surface to grow…
Now imagine this cage full of fish, fish food, and of course, fish poop and you have a pretty good idea of what open ocean fish farming will look like. Multiply by several thousand , to meet NOAA‚ goal of increasing current farmed fish production by a factor of five , and viola! Allow me to introduce the future of open ocean fish farming in the United States.