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Overweight ‘top world’s hungry’

There are now more overweight people across the world than hungry ones, according to experts. US professor Barry Popkin said all countries – both rich and poor – had failed to address the obesity boom.

He told the International Association of Agricultural Economists the number of overweight people had topped 1bn, compared with 800m undernourished. Speaking at an Australian conference, he said changing diets and people doing less physical exercise was the cause.

Professor Popkin, from the University of North Carolina, said that the change had happened quickly as obesity was rapidly spreading, while hunger was slowly declining among the world’s 6.5bn population.

He told the conference at the Gold Coast convention centre near Brisbane: “Obesity is the norm globally and under nutrition, while still important in a few countries and in targeted populations in many others, is no longer the dominant disease.”

…While a direct tax on food in the US to reduce obesity would not be politically acceptable, agricultural subsidies which resulted in cheap food could be reduced, [University of Minnesota’s Professor Benjamin Senauer] added.

But he said other factors, such as exercise, also played an important role.

“Japanese cities are based on efficient public transport and walking. The average American commutes to work, drives to the supermarket and does as little walking as possible.”
(15 Aug 2006)
Also at Common Dreams.

Living ourselves to death

Julie Robotham, Sydney Morning Herald
The closer science looks, the more links it finds between lifestyle and long-term ailments (part two of a series).
,,,But while few other diseases carry a comparable financial and personal cost for each victim, kidney failure is a microcosm of a rise in chronic illness attributable to poor diet, lack of exercise, excess weight and other features of a less than ideal lifestyle.

Clearly there is a paradox. We are living longer than ever. Children are rarely carried off by pneumonia or measles. Men no longer commonly drop dead from heart attacks in their 50s. By many measures we are healthier.

But there has been a trade-off. More of us are sustained through middle age and beyond on medications that keep us alive but sap our energy levels, blunt our libidos and mess with our heads. The exquisite boredom of the out-patient waiting room is a regular reality for an increasing number of people as medicine turns more to monitoring vital signs to head off the stroke or asthma attack before they happen.

Heart disease, arthritis, dementia, many cancers … the closer researchers look, the more links they find between daily lifestyle choices and the development of long-term health conditions, which threaten to ambush the health budget as the population ages.
(14 Aug 2006)

Eat, Memory: Family Heirloom

David Mas Masumoto, NY Times
One afternoon nine years ago, I drove into the barnyard on a tractor, dragging a broken plow. I had been driving too fast, trying to keep pace with the warm spring days and the ensuing assault of weeds, when I hooked a vine. My dad was there, wandering around his tractor.

Our 80-acre organic farm in California was exploding with life. Peaches and nectarines were blooming, and the grapevines were pushing forth pale green buds with miniature bunches. In three months, if all went well, we’d gorge ourselves on peaches. In six months, the bulbous grapes could be dried into raisins.

But the weeds flourished, too. Innocent-looking for a day or two, they kept growing, spreading thick over the landscape. Soon a tangled mass of fibers would compete for water, nutrients and sunlight, stunting the development of my crops, robbing fruits of the essentials they need to grow fat.

The physical work was breaking me. Organic farming is not simple. It’s easy to want to be environmentally responsible, but it’s a damned hard thing to achieve. You cannot replace tedious labor with technology or equipment. If I miss a few worms, an outbreak could ensue. I can’t fix things with a magic spray. It’s like catching a bad flu with no medicine readily available.

David Mas Masumoto is an organic-peach-and-grape farmer and the author of “Four Seasons in Five Senses” (W.W. Norton).
(13 Aug 2006)
It’s good to see the NY Times giving space to Masumoto, the “poet of organic farming.”
Comments by Tom Philpott on Gristmill.

Meat Eaters Without The Guilt

Tamar Haspel, Washington Post
It’s almost a movement. Sustainable agriculture — David to factory farming’s Goliath — is capturing the eating public’s imagination with its contented cows, bucolic landscape and its practice of leaving the environment intact.

With an assist from some recent books describing the miserable lives of animals under big agriculture, the small farmer’s message that we should care about the lives of our livestock is getting traction. As it does, it gives those of us with a concern for animals, but also a fondness for pork chops, a place to hang our hats.

Until relatively recently, when grass-fed beef and free-roaming pork began arriving in stores, consumers had to be one of three things: carnivore, vegetarian or hypocrite. If you didn’t care about your pork chop’s quality of life, you could be a carnivore. If you did, you could either renounce it and be a vegetarian or eat it anyway and, well . . .

Vegetarians had a good claim to the ethical and environmental high ground. Factory farms abuse animals and devastate the environment, and a world where we all eat plants is clearly better than that. When you put the vegetarian vision up against a system of small, sustainable farms, though, the equation changes.

Ecologically, vegetarians focus on efficiency. If humans eat animals that eat plants, it takes much more land to feed us than if humans just eat the plants. That seems like a quaint concern, though, in this era of abundance. Besides, what would we put on freed-up farmland? Gated communities? Wal-Mart?

There’s also more to agriculture than efficiency. If animals make farming less efficient, they also act as weed control, pest control and fertilizer while they do it — they’re integral to sustainability.
(14 Aug 2006)

2006 ag losses worst single-year total ever

Betsy Blaney, Associated Press via Dallas Daily News
Texas agriculture officials on Friday estimated this year’s crop and livestock losses were the state’s worst ever in a single-year, totaling $4.1 billion.

“And we’re not through with it,” Texas Cooperative Extension drought specialist Travis Miller said.

In the first seven months, crop losses were estimated at $2.5 billion and the livestock industry’s at $1.6 billion, officials said. The previous worst agriculture loss was $2.1 billion in 1998.

Rural areas businesses that provide equipment and services to farmers and ranchers also are being hit hard, said Carl Anderson, a Texas Cooperative Extension economist. The projected economic loss for that sector is an additional $3.9 billion, Anderson said.

“This is such a dismal, bleak situation,” Anderson said. “We are seeing that the losses are mounting far beyond what we experienced in 2005 because it’s widespread.”

Early this year agriculture officials estimated losses from April 2005 through this spring would be $1.5 billion. That only accounted for a nearly nonexistent winter wheat crop, high hay prices and the cost for extended supplemental livestock feeding.

The span of the current drought equals the multi-year dry period of the 1950s. It could go down as the worst ever without substantial rainfall by the end of the year, extension officials said in a news release Friday .
(11 Aug 2006)
Contributor Dave Mandot writes: “I realise that no one occurence can be laid to global warming, but we have had a drought in Texas for the last seven years. It’s making some people think.”

Related: Drought in Texas staggers farmers (Houston Chronicle)
Texas drought losses estimated at $4.1 billion (SW Farm Press)

Rice Prices May Double by 2008 Hurting Kellogg, Busch

The world may soon pay more than ever for its most abundant food: rice.

A record crop this year in a market anticipating rising production costs will do little to slow the rally for the staple of 3 billion people. As China, the No. 1 consumer, and Vietnam, among the biggest exporters, continue to plow under their paddies, rice will double within two years to almost $20 per 100 pounds from $9.90 now, according to Stephan Wrobel, chief executive officer at Diapason Commodities Management SA in Lausanne, Switzerland, which oversees $5.5 billion…

“You have more and more people in the world and yields are not rising as quickly as the increase in population,” said Mamadou Ciss, 45, managing director at Ascot Commodities NV in Geneva, which traded 1.3 million tons in 2005, or almost 5 percent of the international market. “World stocks are very, very tight.” Ciss expects prices to double in three years…

Falling Output

In the U.S., which ranks 11th in world production, rice output is falling. Costs for irrigating rice have gained $1.75 for each 100 pounds in the past year, said Milo Hamilton, president of First Grain Advisory Services in Austin, Texas. U.S. production will fall 12 percent this year to 197.2 billion pounds from a year ago because of fewer plantings and hot weather, the government said Aug. 11.

“Farmers have cut back fertilizer and mined the soils, which will show up as lower yields,” said Hamilton, former head buyer for 18 years at Uncle Ben’s Rice, a subsidiary of Mclean, Virginia-based Mars Inc. “Prices are too cheap to prevent acreage cuts in 2007.”…

A developing El Nino weather pattern threatens to reduce rice harvests. The last strong El Nino event in 1997 and 1998 led to record global imports by Indonesia, the third-biggest producer and consumer of rice.
(14 Aug 2006)