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Food & agriculture - June 25

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Mountain men's life under threat

Daniel McLaughlin, The Observer
Shepherds of the Transylvanian peaks face EU rules that may rob them of their traditional work
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The huge white dogs are used to fending off wolves, bears and lynx, and they erupt when a stranger approaches the shepherds' camp high in the mountains of Transylvania.

The men call them off with shouts and whistles and return to milking their flock, but remain alert for one dreaded visitor - a government inspector who could end their ancient way of life at a stroke. The Transylvanian shepherds make cheese, milk and butter in the same way as their ancestors, but since Romania joined the European Union last January, time is running out for these long-held traditions.

The EU wants to stop the sale of dairy products made without modern sterilisation, cooling and transportation equipment - an impossibility for poor men who eke out a living in a wild and beautiful place where running water means a mountain stream and electricity only flows in the lightning that crackles over their pastures.

'I've been doing this 43 years and it hasn't changed,' said Aurel Cotinghi in the pungent little cabin where he makes cheese, as his two sons continue milking outside. 'Now I suppose things will change, but no one has explained it properly to us. Sometime, someone will have to tell us what to do or they will just close us down.'

Farming groups say the Romanian government has done nothing to prepare them for the shock of joining the EU, or to help avert a ban on vital sales of dairy products domestically or in lucrative foreign markets.

....Many Romanian farmers fear the government wants to wipe out smallholders and create a series of 'super-farms' that meet EU norms; and they suspect that Brussels would like to eradicate the small-scale dairy producer, to open the Romanian market to imports.
(24 June 2007)


Milk moves from bottles to the bag

Juliette Jowit, The Observer
One of Britain's leading supermarket chains is to start selling milk in plastic bags after green campaigners said the sale of millions of plastic milk cartons was threatening the environment.

Waitrose will start selling pouches of milk, alongside special jugs to use them with, from tomorrow. Campaigners hope the scheme will be the first step to abolishing plastic milk bottles, thereby reducing landfill and saving the energy used in their manufacture.

Britons consumes around 180 million pints of milk a week, of which at least two-thirds is sold in plastic bottles, which began to replace 'Tetra Pak' cardboard containers in the Nineties. It has recently been estimated that only one in four plastic bottles is recycled.
(24 June 2007)


San Francisco says no to bottled water

Associated Press
Is city water better than bottled water? Mayor Gavin Newsom thinks so.

Newsom has issued an executive order banning city departments from buying bottled water, even for water coolers. The ban goes into effect July 1, and will extend to water coolers by December 1.

The move was billed as a way to help stem global warming and save taxpayer money.
(24 June 2007)


Ag policy as if people mattered

Tom Philpott, Gristmill
The terms of debate around the 2007 farm bill's controversial commodity title have gotten rather narrow.

On the one hand, you've got the House subcommittee on ag commodities, which essentially cut and pasted commodity language from the subsidy-heavy 2002 farm bill into the 2007 version now being drafted.

On the other hand, you've got a chorus of critics, ranging from Oxfam to the Cato Institute to the Environmental Working Group, demanding an end to ag subsidies. This group would like to see an unfettered market work its magic on agriculture.

Straddling in between we find the Bush administration, which chastised the House subcommittee for failing to reform subsidies. Last winter, USDA chief Mike Johanns floated his proposal, which wouldn't abolish subsidies but rather tweak the program a bit to give it a "more market-oriented approach." Language in the proposal hinted strongly that subsidies would eventually be phased out.

Forced to choose, the Oxfams, Catos, and EWGs of the world throw their lot with the Bush Administration. If they can't get the subsidy-free bill they want, they'll take the Bushies' slow-motion reforms.

In last week's Victual Reality, I weighed in on the debate by rebuking the Oxfam/Cato/EWG aproach. I argued that "abandoning farmers to the clutches of a highly consolidated food-processing market ... won't solve our enormous social, public-health, and environmental troubles related to food."

I acknowledged that the subsidy system was a mess, but was vague about what I would put in its place. Several people asked me what kind of farm bill I'd like to see. Given the alternatives on the table, answering that question is a purely theoretical exercise. But here goes.
(24 June 2007)

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