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A Battle Between the Bottle and the Faucet

Bill Marsh, New York Times
THOSE eight daily glasses of water you’re supposed to drink for good health? They will cost you $0.00135 – about 49 cents a year – if you take it from a New York City tap.

Or, city officials suggest, you could spend 2,900 times as much, roughly $1,400 yearly, by drinking bottled water. For the extra money, they say, you get the added responsibility for piling on to the nation’s waste heap and encouraging more of the industrial emissions that are heating up the planet.

But trends in American thirst quenching favor the 2,900-fold premium, as the overflowing trash cans of Central Park attest. In fact, bottled water is growing at the expense of every other beverage category except sports drinks. It has overtaken coffee and milk, and it is closing in on beer. Tap, if trends continue, would be next.

Now New York City officials – like the mayors of Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and San Francisco – are campaigning to get people to reverse course and open their faucets instead of their wallets.
(15 July 2007)

UN warns it cannot afford to feed the world

Javier Blas and Jenny Wiggins, Financial Times
Rising prices for food have led the United Nations programme fighting famine in Africa and other regions to warn that it can no longer afford to feed the 90m people it has helped for each of the past five years on its budget.

The World Food Programme feeds people in countries including Chad, Uganda and Ethiopia, but reaches a fraction of the 850m people it estimates suffers from hunger. It spent about $600m buying food in 2006. So far, the WFP has not cut its reach because of high commodities prices, but now says it could be forced to do so unless donor countries provide extra funds.

…The warning could re-ignite the debate on food versus fuel amid concerns biofuel production will sustain food inflation and hit the world’s poorest people.

The WFP said its purchasing costs had risen "almost 50 per cent in the last five years". The UN organisation said the price it pays for maize had risen up to 120 per cent in the past sixth months in some countries.

Biofuel demand is soaking up grain production as is rising consumption in emerging countries for animal feed.

"We face the tightest agriculture markets in decades and, in same cases, on record," Ms Sheeran said. Global wheat stocks have fallen to the lowest level in 25 years, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Ms Sheeran added: "We are no longer in a surplus world."
(15 July 2007)
Ms Sheeran, a former Moonie, was singing a quite different song way back in April.

Kenyan fury at threat to organic trade

Aidan Hartley, The Observer
Poor farmers could lose their livelihoods if the UK approves a ban on air-freighted imports

In floppy hats and gumboots, Kenya’s Kikuyu farmers are preparing for war with Britain. There isn’t an AK-47 in sight, though there are plenty of organic cucumbers, carrots, French beans and cauliflowers.

It’s a battle over who is to blame for climate change – poor African farmers who export their produce by air, or Western consumers who care about the environmental impact of ‘food miles’.

‘Who emits more greenhouse gases?’ asks Charles Kimani among his avocado trees. ‘A Kenyan or a Briton?’ The average Briton emits 30 times more carbon than a Kenyan, according to World Bank figures – or 9.4 tonnes of CO2 compared with 0.3 tonnes.

Behind the furore is the proposal by the UK’s Soil Association to ban imports of organic produce from poor countries like Kenya because of their ‘food miles’ – the carbon emitted by air transport. Starting with a debate in London tomorrow, the SA will hear views on the issue until September, when it may decide to introduce a limited or total ban.
(15 July 2007)

Groceries gobble up budgets

Mark Chediak, Orlando Sentinel
Everyone grumbles about skyrocketing gas prices, but the cost of food — everything from milk to bread — has been quietly rising even higher, pinching consumers at grocery stores and in restaurants across Central Florida.

Food prices are up nearly 4 percent in the past year, according to the Consumer Price Index — and may climb even higher. A gallon of milk, for example, now costs more than $4 at many groceries in Central Florida, an increase of more than 10 percent from just two months ago.

Meanwhile, the average price of a gallon of regular gas in Orlando is only 2 cents higher than a year ago.

With the cost of staples such as eggs (up nearly 30 percent in the past year), milk and bread escalating, some consumers say they are adjusting their spending habits.

…So what’s causing the jumping prices? Corn.

Ethanol producers have driven up demand for the grain, which is used to make ethanol blends.

That has caused the cost of a bushel of corn to nearly double since spring of last year.

That price jump has led to rising costs for other foods and meats, because corn is an essential part of the U.S. food-supply chain. Farmers use the grain to feed dairy cattle, poultry and other livestock.

Corn-based syrups flavor sodas, and corn oils are used in a variety of foods.

Ann Gilpin, a food-industry analyst for research firm Morningstar, said the jump in corn prices has had "a domino effect on the whole industry."

Other pressures driving up the price of food include high fuel and labor costs.
(14 July 2007)

Italians facing pasta price rise

David Willey, BBC News
Italian pasta manufacturers have warned that the price of pasta, one of Italy’s staple foods, will go up by about 20% this autumn.

Global warming and the growing use of durum wheat as a bio-fuel are blamed.

Italian pasta tastes good because it is made from durum wheat, of which Italy is one of the world’s main producers.

But with strong demand at home and a growing export market, Italians are increasingly forced to import high quality durum wheat from abroad.

Much comes from Canada and Syria but, according to Mario Rummo, president of the Italian pasta manufacturers association, the Canadians have said they have no more durum wheat for sale until November.

Syria, meanwhile, has just banned the export of grain.

The result will be a price hike of 20% for spaghetti and fettuccine by the autumn for Italians who have long been accustomed to cheap pasta in their supermarkets.

Canadian production of durum wheat has soared in recent years, but it is increasingly being sold as a bio-fuel to make ethanol which is why the wholesale price is going up.

Global warming appears to be one of the main reasons for a decline in production in some traditional durum wheat-growing areas in the Mediterranean.
(10 July 2007)

Low Energy Food Preservation

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
So you’ve grown the garden, and the quantities of tomatoes and zucchini are getting really embarassing. How do you preserve it, using the fewest possible fossil fuel inputs? What’s the best way to keep your pantry full and your democracy alive (if you have no idea why I’m talking about democracy and pickled cabbage together, you might want to read my post on "Food Preservation and Democracy" here: -they really do go together like locally produced hot dogs/tofu dogs and sauerkraut ;-)).

A lot of what I’m talking about here applies best to people with space for decent sized gardens or even small farms. But a good deal of this can apply to urbanites with no or small gardens.
(12 July 2007)