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We chow down on a diet salted with mystery

Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune
Most of us have absolutely no idea where — or from whom — our food is coming, which is exactly how we like it.

Factory farming isn’t pretty, even when slaughterhouses obey regulations. And who cares whether pineapples grow high on trees or low to the ground as long as they’re available in February?

But last week’s massive beef recall, sparked by an unpalatable video showing workers using forklifts and electric shocks to move sick animals to slaughter, shows the importance of knowing the source of your sustenance.

The way food is grown and harvested directly affects our health. But we’ve become so divorced from the process that we’re unable to make logical or intuitive food choices.

Instead we read confusing labels, we listen to food marketers, we buy into so-called health claims
(24 February 2008)
Also posted at Common Dreams.

Obesity More Dangerous Than Terrorism: Experts

Lawrence Bartlett, AFP via Common Dreams
World governments focus too much on fighting terrorism while obesity and other “lifestyle diseases” are killing millions more people, an international conference heard Monday.

Overcoming deadly factors such as poor diet, smoking and a lack of exercise should take top priority in the fight against a growing epidemic of preventable chronic disease, legal and health experts said.

Global terrorism was a real threat but posed far less risk than obesity, diabetes and smoking-related illnesses, prominent US professor of health law Lawrence Gostin said at the Oxford Health Alliance Summit here.

… The fifth annual conference of the Oxford Health Alliance – co-founded by Oxford University – has brought together world experts from academia, government, business, law, economics and urban planning to promote change.

…The conference is due to end Wednesday with a “Sydney Resolution” calling on governments and big business among others to take action to avert millions of premature deaths due to chronic disease.

“The way we live now is making us sick, it’s making our planet sick and it’s not sustainable,” said Asia-Pacific co-director Ruth Colagiuri.

The Sydney resolution focuses on four key areas, including the need to make towns and cities healthier places in which to live by urban design which promotes walking and cycling and reduces carbon emissions from motor vehicles.

Insufficient physical exercise is a risk factor in many chronic diseases and is estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths worldwide each year, said Tony Capon, professor of health studies at Australia’s Macquarie University.

“We need to build the physical activity back into our lives and it’s not simply about bike paths, it’s about developing an urban habitat that enables people to live healthy lives: ensuring that people can meet most of their daily needs within walking and cycling distance of where they live,” he said.
(25 February 2008)

Svalbard’s giant cold store

Gwladys Fouché, Guardian
Today sees the opening of the global seed vault, built to preserve samples of nearly all the world’s seed crops deep in an Arctic mountain.

Hardly anything grows on Svalbard. In this Arctic archipelago, the permafrost is 1,000ft deep, the nearest tree grows 600 miles to the south, and the sun does not rise for four months of the year. But it is on this frozen, barren outpost that the future of mankind’s food supply depends.

Today sees the inauguration of the Svalbard global seed vault, a top-security repository that will house batches of seeds from nearly every variety of food crop on the planet, such as wheat, rice or maize. The aim is to protect them in case of a global catastrophe. “It is the last line of defence against the extinction of our agricultural diversity,” says Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Diversity Crop Trust (GDCT), the brain behind the project. “People are aware of the extinction of the dinosaurs, but they don’t know that we are currently experiencing a mass extinction of our crop diversity.”

According to Fowler, maintaining agricultural diversity is essential to protect our food supply.
(26 February 2008)
Video at original.

UK farmers forced to ride income rollercoaster

James Meikle, The Guardian
British farming incomes rose overall last year, largely as a result of increased cereal prices, but farmers’ leaders recently warned that this masked a “dangerously divided” industry. The estimated average £13,300 a year earned by those working full time in farming was better than in 2000 and 2001, when it slipped well below £10,000. However, 25 years ago it was more than £26,000 at today’s prices, as it was again in the mid-90s, before the BSE and foot and mouth crises.

Those in some sectors, particularly wheat producers, have recently enjoyed huge increases in prices as a result of weather-affected harvests globally and increased demand for animal feed from China and India. But livestock farmers continue to have a rough time.

They have been hit by movement and export restrictions after disease outbreaks, and sharply rising energy costs are also having an effect on poultry and pig producers.
(26 February 2008)

Uganda: Exposing ”The African Green Revolution”

Aileen Kwa, IPS News
Uganda’s major trade partners are not only looking for food markets but also for seed markets. This has happened in a push that has been packaged as ‘‘the new green revolution’’ by corporations involved in biotechnology and chemicals. They have been supported by philanthropic organizations, notably the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Another such organisation is the Yara Foundation which was established in 2005 by Yara International, the world’s leading supplier of mineral fertilizers. This Norwegian company is the only international fertilizer producer which has had a significant presence in Africa over the past 25 years.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also promotes hybrid seeds through its myriad projects in African countries, particularly funding to governments’ agricultural research institutions. It influences their direction and agenda, as is happening in Uganda. Other donors are also involved, such as the German government.

Last but perhaps of most critical importance is the World Bank. It has played a pivotal role in promoting its liberalization agenda since the 1980s. This had led to the opening up of African countries to agricultural inputs.

Under its influence the seed market across Africa has been privatised, preparing the ground for the entry of private companies. The presence of seed corporations is felt but is hidden.

Researcher Elenita Dano writes in her publication ‘‘Unmasking the New Green Revolution in Africa: Motives, Players and Dynamics’’ that ‘‘agricultural chemical and biotechnology corporations have notably downplayed their role in the push for a New Green Revolution…

‘‘(They) appear to remain on the sidelines, even as they quietly push their agenda forward through a myriad of partnerships with public research institutions, non-government organizations and farmers’ organizations…’’
(25 February 2008)
The second part of this two-part series is online: Privatisation of Seeds Moving Apace .